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Senate panel advances Maryland legislative redistricting plan favored by Democrats

A key Senate committee has passed a plan to redraw the state Senate and House of Delegates districts in the General Assembly.

The 11-4 vote to accept a state legislative redistricting plan drawn by a commission appointed by House and Senate leaders fell along strict party lines with Democrats holding the majority. The panel took no action on a competing plan offered by Republican Gov. Larry Hogan.

The vote, with no debate, followed nearly two hours of testimony.

Earlier, local elections officials from around the state Tuesday warned of a “perfect storm” of redistricting concerns that could affect the 2022 election.

Members of a Senate and House committee held a joint hearing Tuesday on two competing bills that redraw 47 legislative districts encompassing 188 seats in the Maryland General Assembly. Elections officials warned that early primaries in June and the time needed to implement changes to legislative, congressional and county council or commissioner seats could create problems.

“Our concern is time — logistically having enough time to make all the necessary preparations to have a successful election in Maryland,” said Ruie Lavoie, elections director in Baltimore County.

Included in those concerns are needs for more voting machines, more election judges and educating voters on their new districts.

“It’s not just that we can push a button,” she said. “We have to look at each address. In my county, there are over 600,000 addresses.”

Members of a House and Senate Committee held a hearing Tuesday on competing redistricting plans.

Both Senate President Bill Ferguson and House Speaker Adrienne Jones have previously said they want to move quickly to pass the new maps.

The legislature must pass a redistricting plan by Feb. 25 or Gov. Larry Hogan’s plan takes effect. Maryland’s filing deadline for the 2022 election is Feb. 22.

Hogan submitted a plan drawn by a commission he appointed and touted as independent. The nine-member panel included three Democrats, three Republicans and three independent voters.

Leaders of the Maryland Citizens Redistricting Committee said their plan meets federal and state requirements, including being compact, contiguous and limiting jurisdictional crossings.

The plan features 87 single-member House districts and 18 three-member districts.

State law requires districts have a population variance of no more than plus or minus 5% or a maximum variance of 10% between the least and most populous districts. Members of the commission said its plan features Senate districts under a 2% variance and House districts with less than 3% population variance.

But Hogan, in his executive order, mandated that the independent panel take into consideration a number of factors, including favoring single-member districts for delegates when possible and ignoring the interests of incumbents. Those limits caused some good government groups to worry about the panel’s maps.

“Hogan’s limits made the groups not trust the commission,” said Beth Hufnagel of the League of Women Voters.

Karl Aro, who led the effort for the Legislative Redistricting Advisory Commission, similarly said that his panel’s plan meets all legal requirements.

That map features multiple districts that cross jurisdictions and a district in which the City of Frederick, which is very Democratic, becomes District 3. Wrapped around the city is District 4, a larger, more Republican area. The two together give the appearance of a donut with the city district creating the hole in the center.

The legislative redistricting panel maps have a population variance of just under 8%.

Hogan is the first Republican governor to preside over redistricting. A majority Democratic legislature limits Hogan’s power compared to past executives.

Hogan has repeatedly criticized the legislative efforts as overly partisan and the maps as gerrymandered.

Aro dismissed criticisms, saying “when someone doesn’t like a plan, the first word out of their mouth is gerrymandering.”