Md. House of Delegates gives final approval to legislative redistricting plan

This article was republished with permission from WTOP’s news partners at Maryland Matters. Sign up for Maryland Matters’ free email subscription today.

This content was republished with permission from WTOP’s news partners at Maryland Matters. Sign up for Maryland Matters’ free email subscription today.

Maryland lawmakers finalized the state’s next set of delegate and senatorial districts Thursday, although the new map is certain to face legal challenges in the coming weeks.

The House of Delegates voted 95-42 Thursday afternoon to finalize new district contours drawn by the Legislative Redistricting Advisory Commission, a panel convened by Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) and House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County).

Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) isn’t allowed to veto the General Assembly’s legislative redistricting proposal under Maryland law, meaning the districts are immediately enacted.

Republicans have attempted to replace maps proposed by the Legislative Redistricting Advisory Commission with those put forward by the Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission — a panel convened by Hogan — throughout both the state and congressional redistricting processes in Maryland.

On Thursday, Republicans in the House of Delegates made a final attempt to swap the two maps via an amendment introduced by Del. Susan W. Krebs (R-Carroll County).

House Minority Leader Jason C. Buckel (R-Allegany) said the legislative panel’s map, which largely mirrors current districts with changes that could generally help vulnerable Democrats in the upcoming election, was drawn for partisan gain.

“We rigged the game,” Buckel, a member of the Legislative Redistricting Advisory Commission, said.

Del. Mark N. Fisher (R-Calvert) charged that the lines of District 27 in the Legislative Redistricting Advisory Commission proposal violate the state constitution’s requirement that legislative districts respect natural boundaries. In both current maps and the Legislative Redistricting Advisory Commission proposal, that district includes part of northern Calvert County before moving across the Patuxent river into Prince George’s and Charles counties.

But House Majority Leader Eric G. Luedtke (D-Montgomery) took the same issue with Hogan’s mandates for the Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission, particularly that the commission start from scratch in drawing their proposals.

“If you completely redraw legislative districts from scratch, you are effectively violating communities of interest,” Luedtke said.

Buckel noted that the Maryland Constitution requires the governor to kickstart the legislative redistricting process by presenting a plan to the General Assembly, which becomes law if lawmakers don’t make any changes within 45 days.

Luedtke, a member of the Legislative Redistricting Advisory Commission, said the General Assembly isn’t beholden to the governor’s recommendations; the panel aimed to keep as many Marylanders in their existing districts as possible when drawing up their map.

“Our very system of government is founded on the ideas that the legislative branch is independent from the executive,” Luedtke said.

Krebs’ amendment was rejected in a 43-92 vote.

Another amendment from Krebs aimed to bring back a previous version of the Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission legislative redistricting proposal that included all single-member districts.

The Maryland Constitution requires House districts to be nested within Senate district boundaries. But House districts can be subdivided, leading to boundaries that include one, two, or three delegates.

Hogan required members of the Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission to use single-member districts to the extent practicable in their legislative maps. And although members of that commission released a draft map with exclusively single-member delegate districts, they eventually reached a compromise to recommend both single- and three-delegate districts, based on population density.

Krebs and other Republicans in the House argued that single-member districts better represent the concept of “one person, one vote.” They also charged that the current system isn’t fair to Marylanders, some of whom vote for only one state delegate compared to others who vote for three.

Del. Kumar P. Barve (D-Montgomery), who was the first Indian American elected to a state legislature in the United States when he was voted into the General Assembly in 1990, said running in a multi-member district helped him achieve that milestone.

“In a race where you get three votes, you can do that,” Barve said. “You can use one of your votes to vote for somebody who’s a little off-beat.”

Luedtke described three-member districts as the “constitutional default” in Maryland and argued that, if the state’s use of multi-member districts ever changes, that should be done through a constitutional amendment and voted on by Marylanders.

The amendment was also voted down.

Buckel said he expects lawsuits over the new map, which will head directly to the Maryland Court of Appeals.

Hogan has appointed five of the top court’s seven current judges, including his former chief legislative officer, Chief Judge Joseph M. Getty.

Getty was originally appointed to the court in June 2016, but became the state’s top jurist in September after former Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera reached the mandatory retirement age of 70. Getty, 69, will reach the mandatory age of retirement in April.

Del. C.T. Wilson (D-Charles) said he expects the map to hold up in court. He noted that the court ordered lawmakers to redraw their redistricting plan in 2002, and said the districts proposed by the Legislative Redistricting Advisory Commission largely mirror that redrawn plan.

“That is the starting point for the map we have today,” Wilson said.

Fair Maps Maryland, an anti-gerrymandering group with ties to Hogan, slammed the state’s new map in a press release shortly after the House adjourned — and pledged legal action.

“At this very moment, we have attorneys and election experts working on a lawsuit that will be filed in the Maryland Court of Appeals in the near future,” Doug Mayer, the spokesperson for Fair Maps Maryland and a former communications strategist for Hogan, said in the release.

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