A fast-tracked bill redrawing the state’s eight congressional districts heads to the House of Delegates as lawmakers attempt to comply with a Wednesday judicial deadline.
The Senate voted 30-13 along party lines just hours after the bill received preliminary approval. The legislative dash is part of an effort to pass a map that will replace one that Judge Lynne Battaglia struck down Friday as unconstitutional.
Republicans opposed the effort, saying it was done behind closed doors and without any input from the minority party. Those same Republicans said the new districts, while more compact, do not address court concerns about diluting Republican votes.
“The first map was a punch in the nose,” said Sen Bob Cassilly, R-Harford. “The second map is a punch in the gut. Either way you look at it, it’s still an assault on democracy. It doesn’t make it any better, doesn’t make it right. It might hurt a little bit less but it’s still an inappropriate assault on democracy.”
The bill now heads to the House when the chamber reconvenes at 4:30 p.m. The House Rules and Executive Nominations Committee has scheduled a vote on the bill Tuesday at 6:30 p.m.
The new maps feature smaller, more compact districts. No single district appears to contain more than three political subdivisions.
The 1st Congressional District, currently represented by Rep. Andy Harris, the only Republican in the state delegation, was substantially overhauled. A map approved in January made Harris’ district slightly favorable to Democratic challenges by crossing the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and picking up portions of Anne Arundel County that had more Democratic voters.
Harris’ district in the new map no longer crosses the Bay Bridge but instead connects to the western shore through Cecil and Harford counties into eastern Baltimore County.
The state’s two so-called Voting Rights Districts, are almost entirely contained within Baltimore city and Prince George’s County.
Maryland Democratic voters outnumber Republicans by a roughly 2-1 margin. The party has held seven of the congressional seats since 2012. Prior to the 2002 reapportionment, the eight seats were evenly split between the parties. That year, Democratic Former Gov. Parris Glendening, who now decries partisan redistricting, whittled that down to a 6-2 margin in favor of his own party.
Sen. Michael Hough, R-Frederick, said the new maps maintains the congressional district majority for Democrats that existed under the previous map.
“This is a 7-1 map,” said Hough. “You look at the voter performance in each one and every single one of the districts is a Democrat district with the exception of District 1, which was given back. With all due respect to the work done here, the outcome will basically be the same.”
Hough and other Republicans, including Sen. Chris West, R-Baltimore County, objected to the number of counties and Baltimore city that were split into different congressional districts.
Democrats defended the maps as legal, meeting state and federal law — identical claims made in January as the majority pushed through the now-rejected map. Sen. Delores Kelley, D-Baltimore County, said the limited incursions into jurisdictions was needed to ensure each district had an identical population of 771,925 people.
“We ought to remember that people are not spread out equally across any county in the state of Maryland,” said Kelley, who added that the state’s odd shape also creates challenges and limitations. “We’re not a nice box or something that symmetrical. And since the human beings living in any of our counties are not equally spread out in the space that constitutes the county, what we are talking about are ideals that in a geometry class would be great but they have nothing to do with where the human beings are that live in Maryland.”
The new maps were hastily drawn over the weekend by legislative staff with apparent guidance from presiding officers.
Battaglia Friday struck down the initial new maps on the basis that they did not confirm to compactness requirements and unfairly favored Democrats over Republicans — novel views in the history of battles over Maryland congressional reapportionment.
The legislature, which is still contemplating an appeal, quietly redrew the maps over the weekend outside of the public view and with no input from Republican lawmakers.
Senate President Bill Ferguson, who has at times appeared testy with Republicans and with questions about the process, noted that the maps were drawn to ensure they met the compactness requirement laid out in the court order. He declined to say who drew the maps or make staff available for questions as was done in December and earlier this year.
The bill is contingent upon an unsuccessful appeal of Battaglia’s ruling, though Ferguson would not directly answer questions about the existence of an appeal.
Once passed, Gov. Larry Hogan will have an opportunity to sign or veto the bill. He could take up to six days to decide. Hogan in December vetoed the plan now struck down by the court. Last week, he repeated his call for the legislature to pass a map drawn by a commission he appointed.
A spokesman for Hogan did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The governor is scheduled to be out of Annapolis, including to deliver remarks at the Maryland State Police Academy graduation ceremony at 10 a.m. Hogan is also scheduled to speak at an event in Washington, D.C., at 3 p.m.