The Maryland Public Policy Institute
As I write this, it is still unclear whether or not the petition against the latest congressional district maps has succeeded or failed. Opponents of the latest round of redistricting (it’s mandated every ten years) turned in some 65,000 signatures and need just shy of 56,000 of those to count. That’s a very high percentage. But even if they succeed in getting the issue on the ballot in November, what then?
Over the weekend, Pete McCarthy of the Frederick News-Post asked that very question. Here’s the highlights:
The governor would likely once again appoint a commission to study the districts, according to Guillory. Population shifts and other data would be collected, she said. Once maps are drafted, the proposal would be presented to the public before a vote by the Legislature.
The new maps would be completed before the next congressional election and primaries in 2014.
The state does not need to make drastic changes, however, according to John T. Willis, a former Maryland secretary of state.
"Any modification to the current statute would be within the discretion of the Maryland General Assembly, and those modifications could be slight or substantial," said Willis, who is now the director of government and public policy at the University of Baltimore.
"There's absolutely nothing to prevent the General Assembly from passing another similar map."
Clearly, gerrymandering is not a problem that can simply be solved by the voters petitioning against a specific map every decade. As Willis points out: there’s nothing to stop our legislators from putting in the absolute minimum effort required to obey the letter of the law, make a minor change (or two) to the map that the public vetoed, and then settle on something that is – for all intents and purposes – no different at all.
Delegate Kelly Schulz said, “the goal of the referendum is to open dialogue between leaders in Annapolis and the people of Maryland.” I certainly hope that’s true, because there’s not a whole lot else that we can hope to accomplish. Either Governor O’Malley will be open to going back to the drawing board and will make sure to appoint as unbiased a committee as possible, or he won’t. At all.
These are, lest we forget, his lines on his map. O’Malley likes the thing. As do, I’m sure, many members of the Maryland legislature. It truly is a minority who oppose the map, and although our government is supposed to ensure that the majority doesn’t take away the voice of the minority, we know that’s not always the way the world works.
It will be a great success if the maps appear on the November ballot at all. Last time that happened was 50-odd years ago. But if we really want this issue to be resolved, we need to look beyond petitions with a narrow scope and start coming up with alternatives to the entire redistricting process. Alternatives that ensure fairness to voters – not that an entrenched political party won’t have any competition.
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