How to Fix the 6th Congressional District

Anti-gerrymandering activist Howard Gorrell speaks in front of the Supreme Court last year when the justices heard a challenge to Maryland's 6th congressional district.

Partisan redistricting was a hot topic across the country last year. But I have fought against partisan gerrymandering since 1970, when I first learned the definition of gerrymandering while I worked as assistant vote statistician of the National Republican Congressional Committee.

In a surprise move, Gov. Larry Hogan on Nov. 26 created an Emergency Commission on Sixth Congressional District Gerrymandering in response to a federal court ruling in the case of Benisek v. Lamone. This federal court order requires Maryland to draw new boundaries for the 6th Congressional District by a deadline of March 7.

Only one congressional district???

The federal court ordered the state to “apply traditional criteria for redistricting – such as geographic contiguity, compactness, regard for natural boundaries and boundaries of political subdivisions, and regard for geographic and other communities of interest – and without considering how citizens are registered to vote or have voted in the past or to what political party they belong.”

The deadline is just two months away! Could the Emergency Commission have enough time to meet the deadline by using the software redistricting application?

During oral arguments in the Supreme Court last year for the Wisconsin redistricting case of Gill v. Whitford, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said, “It may be simply my educational background, but I can only describe it [social science data] as sociological gobbledygook.”

But based on my experience, I can draw the redistricting map without using computer technology. Just use Census numbers, precinct-specific data, a calculator, and a magnifying glass. How to draw?

The First Step in Drawing: To see if the new 6th District can meet the requirement of “geographic contiguity, compactness, natural boundaries.”

On Aug. 24, 2017, in his dissenting opinion on the Order Staying any further Proceedings in the Benisek v. Lamone case pending a decision by the Supreme Court in Gill v. Whitford, Fourth Circuit Judge Paul Niemeyer pointed out, “Historically, the Sixth District included western Maryland and much of north-central Maryland, and the Sixth District had always included all of the State’s five most northwestern counties: Garrett, Allegany, Washington, Frederick, and Carroll Counties.”

Also, the five-county region has no geographic barrier.

According to the Report of Maryland Precinct Population Data: 2010 Census Adjusted Maryland Redistricting Data & Unadjusted Census Population Count (May 2011), the total number of the adjusted ideal congressional district population (“AICDP”) of these five-mentioned counties is 645,809.

We have to comply with federal redistricting criteria. In 1964, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Wesberry v. Sanders that the population of congressional districts in the same state must be as nearly equal in population as practicable.

On April 13, 2010, then-Gov. Martin O’Malley signed into law the “No Representation Without Population Act.”Generally, the law requires that the Census data must be adjusted to reassign Maryland residents in correctional institutions to their last known address and to exclude out-of-state residents in correctional institutions from being counted during redistricting.

Therefore, the adjusted ideal congressional district population (“AICDP”) for the Maryland congressional districts that were drawn after the 2010 Census was 721,529. At this point, the deviation for the proposed 6th District is -75,720.

The Second Step in Drawing: To find which neighboring county (or counties) might equal the AICDP deviation of -75,720.

Since the 1964 ruling of Wesberry v. Sanders, the 6th District has had, at various times, portions of Baltimore County, portions of Harford County, and portions of Howard County.

To meet the federal court requirement of “boundaries of political subdivisions,” the five-county region mentioned above has a heavily agricultural economy and has a large number of dairy farms. The excellent choice to add to the newly-reconfigured 6th District could be Montgomery County since, in 1980, the Montgomery County Council created the Agricultural Reserve, which encompasses 93,000 contiguous acres – almost a third of the county’s land resources – along with the county’s northern, western, and eastern borders.

The Third Step in Drawing: To find how we select the precincts of the Agricultural Reserve in Montgomery County.

To meet the federal court requirement of “communities of interests,” I have proposed adding clusters of high schools and their feeder schools. In his blog, The Free State, Associate Professor of Political Science at St. Mary’s College of Maryland Todd Eberly wrote: “[Gorrell’s] decision to rely on school districts as the basic unit of ‘community’ represents a true understanding of the building blocks of neighborhoods and common ground.”

The county’s northern border has the Clarksburg High School cluster with the AICDP of 19,540, while the county’s eastern border has the Damascus High School cluster with the AICDP of 23,056. On the western border, there is the Northwest High School cluster with the AICDP of 23,366 and the Poolesville High School cluster with the AICDP of 8,558.

The overall AICDP of the proposed district is 720,329. The deviation is reduced to -1,200 (-0.17 percent).

The Final Step in Drawing: To find how we narrow the -0.17 percent deviation to zero.

To seek more fairness in the way congressional districts are drawn, either the Montgomery County Council, Montgomery County Board of Elections, or Board of Education of the Montgomery County Public Schools should hold a town hall meeting on redistricting for voters residing in the elementary school cluster of Laytonville Elementary School in the high school cluster of Damascus High School in the Precinct Number 01-001.

If voters in this precinct can’t reach an agreement on boundary lines, the Council would have to appoint a special master to draw the final congressional district boundary.

The last federal court requirement is “without considering how citizens are registered to vote or have voted in the past or to what political party they belong.” I have never used the election results and the political party registrations in developing my proposed district lines.

In short, Maryland’s 6th Congressional District can be drawn perfectly!

— Howard L. Gorrell

The writer was the first complainant challenging the constitutionality of the apportion of congressional districts of the State of Maryland for the 2010 decade, based primarily on alleged partisan gerrymandering and insufficient consideration of communities of interest. See Gorrell v. O’Malley, 2012 WL 226919 (D. Md. Jan. 19, 2012)

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