When Cheaters Win, We All Lose: A Case for Redistricting Reform

Cheating is wrong. That’s what I tell my children.

Last week, during an intense game of Candy Land, I explained to one of my daughters that she could not put her card back and redraw to avoid being stuck in the Molasses Swamp because that would be against the rules of the game and unfair to her sisters.

We all teach our children these lessons early in their lives hoping that they will grow up and have integrity.

As a society, we also have rules and punishments in place to ensure that fairness prevails. Schools suspend or expel students who try to gain an unfair advantage over their classmates by cheating. Professional athletes are fined, suspended or banned for using performance enhancing drugs. In the corporate world, there are antitrust laws that prohibit the use of inside information and prevent monopolies.

In every other aspect of life, we strive to make sure the playing field is level. Yet, in the realm of politics where we elect our government representatives, an arena that should be held to the highest standard of fairness and integrity, we fail to do so. We turn a blind eye or, in some cases, actively participate in an inequitable process that basically amounts to cheating.

In Maryland, the congressional and legislative redistricting process is flawed. Our system allows the Governor and the legislature to draw election district lines. This allows incumbent members of the Maryland House and Senate to cheat by drawing lines that improve their chances of re-election and keep challengers at bay. It also allows the majority party to cheat by drawing lines that favor their caucus members over the minority caucus members and further strengthens their monopoly in the legislature.

MDlegislativedistricts

Sadly, Maryland’s slanted redistricting process is not an exception; it is the norm across the country. Republican led states and other Democrat led states indulge in the same unjust practice. This results in the suppression of minority viewpoints in state legislatures, but perhaps more damaging is the impact it has on Capitol Hill. State party leaders are under constant pressure from party leadership in DC to increase numbers. They need warriors in the ever-shifting partisan battle to control the halls of Congress, so congressional district lines are drawn with the same party favoritism. Republican states cheat to send more Republicans and Democrat states cheat to send more Democrats. This is certainly a major contributor to the toxic environment that exists in Washington.

Compounding this problem is general elections in these congressional districts become zero-sum games because primaries tend to weed out moderate candidates, so voters have a choice between far left and far right. On Election Day, nearly half the electorate is elated and nearly half is devastated depending on which flavor of Kool Aid they prefer, while those in the middle drift further toward apathy. The result on Capitol Hill is two sides that are so far apart ideologically, they can’t agree on what color the sky is.

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During my final legislative session as a member of the Maryland General Assembly, I have introduced a constitutional amendment to reform Maryland’s redistricting process. This is not an original idea as other legislators have tried in previous sessions to pass similar bills, but I wanted to add my voice to others calling for change. This year, in addition to my legislation, several other lawmakers from both political parties have also introduced bills calling for redistricting reform which is a positive sign.

Without getting too much into the minutiae of my bill, I’ll just provide the basics. The bill would create an independent commission charged with redrawing district lines every ten years after the census. An independent legislative auditor would recruit applicants and ensure representation from the top two political parties as well as those who choose not to identify with a party. The commission would hold public hearings to ensure transparency and draw lines following specific guidelines related to geography, population and equitable representation. Politicians would be completely removed from the process.

Some have said that Maryland is justified in continuing its current redistricting process because so many other states also do it. Others have suggested that Maryland should only change its process if a similarly-sized Republican state changes its process accordingly. One Maryland legislator even submitted legislation proposing such a plan. I agree that a state-by-state approach to redistricting reform is not ideal and I would rather see it enacted by the federal government nationwide. However, I reject the notion that being complicit with other states is an adequate excuse for Maryland to continue with the status quo. We should be better than that and we should not wait for the federal government to act. We should lead.

Unfortunately, I am still part of a minority, albeit bipartisan, viewpoint in the legislature and I recognize my bill has almost no chance of passing as it sits in a committee chairman’s drawer with only a few short weeks left in this legislative session.

Regardless of the fate of my bill, I encourage anyone reading this who believes in fairness and the prospect of good government, to contact their legislators (preferably prior to the 2020 census after which election districts will be redrawn) at the state and federal levels and urge them to support redistricting reform. The fate of our nation could depend on it.


DISTRICT 3

Sen. Ronald N. Young (D), District 3
James Senate Office Building, Room 316
11 Bladen St., Annapolis, MD 21401
(410) 841-3575, (301) 858-3575
e-mail: ronald.young@senate.state.md.us

Del. Galen R. Clagett (D), District 3A
House Office Building, Room 405
6 Bladen St., Annapolis, MD 21401
(410) 841-3436, (301) 858-3436
e-mail: galen.clagett@house.state.md.us

Del. Patrick N. Hogan (R), District 3A
House Office Building, Room 324
6 Bladen St., Annapolis, MD 21401
(410) 841-3240, (301) 858-3240
e-mail: patrick.hogan@house.state.md.us

Del. Michael J. Hough (R), District 3B
House Office Building, Room 213
6 Bladen St., Annapolis, MD 21401
(410) 841-3472, (301) 858-3472
e-mail: michael.hough@house.state.md.us

DISTRICT 4

Sen. David R. Brinkley (R), District 4
James Senate Office Building, Room 420
11 Bladen St., Annapolis, MD 21401
(410) 841-3704, (301) 858-3704
e-mail: david.brinkley@senate.state.md.us

Del. Kathryn L. Afzali (R), District 4A
House Office Building, Room 319
6 Bladen St., Annapolis, MD 21401
(410) 841-3288, (301) 858-3288
e-mail: kathy.afzali@house.state.md.us

Del. Kelly M. Schulz (R), District 4A
House Office Building, Room 324
6 Bladen St., Annapolis, MD 21401
(410) 841-3080, (301) 858-3080
e-mail: kelly.schulz@house.state.md.us

Del. Donald B. Elliott (R), District 4B
House Office Building, Room 311
6 Bladen St., Annapolis, MD 21401
(410) 841-3118, (301) 858-3118
e-mail: donald.elliott@house.state.md.us


More information

Maryland Legislative Districts

Download map of Maryland 2012 Legislative Districts (Statewide, House of Delegates Districts) as PDF file

Download map of Maryland 2012 Legislative Districts (Statewide, Senate Districts) as PDF file

Maryland Congressional Districts

Download map of Maryland 2011 Congressional Districts

New Republic
Welcome to America’s Most Gerrymandered District
November 8, 2012

Times Union
Gerrymandering? Not in Iowa
April 14, 2011

Fair Vote: The Center for Voting and Democracy
Redistricting

The Atlantic
The League of Dangerous Mapmakers
Who’s most to blame for our divisive politics? How about the gerrymanderers quietly deciding where your vote goes. Inside the dark art and modern science of making democracy a lot less democratic.
October 2012

Slate
It’s Appalling that Gerrymandering Is Legal
NOV. 9 2012

NY Times
The Great Gerrymander of 2012
February 2, 2013

Think Progress
Retired Supreme Court Justice Calls For Constitutional Amendment To Prevent Partisan Gerrymandering
March 5, 2014

In Gerrymandering, Both Parties Travel The Low Road
by Kai Hagen
June 19, 2002

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