U.S. Rep. John P. Sarbanes (D-Md.) touted his sweeping federal election overhaul to state legislators from Howard County in a Wednesday morning meeting, saying the proposed reforms are the “most requested anti-corruption legislation” ever passed by the House of Representatives.
Sarbanes is the primary architect of the For the People Act, an omnibus proposal that would cut back on gerrymandering, expand absentee ballot access and modernize voter registration. Those are just a few of the slew of election reform efforts included in the legislation, which is currently in the Senate after passing the House in early March.
Sarbanes told members of the Maryland General Assembly’s Howard County delegation Wednesday that, coupled with the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, the For the People Act represents “the most consequential set of voting rights and civil rights reforms that we’ve seen in a generation.”
Among the many provisions in the election reform are new requirements for congressional redistricting, including a ban on partisan gerrymandering. The act would also require more uniform rules for redistricting, according to an analysis of the legislation by the Brennan Center for Justice, and require states to use bipartisan, independent commissions to draw district lines.
Del. Reid J. Novotny (R-Howard County) pressed Sarbanes on how Maryland’s maps might change if the reform passes, but the congressman stopped short of predicting exactly how the state’s districts could look after the next round of redistricting.
“It’s hard for me to know where that lands in terms of actual district lines,” Sarbanes said, “and what the makeup will be at the congressional level after you have an election with those new lines.”
But the legislation is “definitely going to impact” how congressional maps are drawn across the country, Sarbanes said.
“It’s a process that demonstrates respect for voters, and it’s something we certainly heard from voters for many, many years,” he said. “It polls very high as a reform in blue states and red states across the country.”
Sarbanes’ election reforms would almost certainly lead to a map change in his own 3rd District, which snakes haphazardly from Annapolis to Olney and then north of Baltimore. His district has been described in The Washington Post as possibly “the nation’s most bizarrely gerrymandered district” and has been likened to a praying mantis in its shape.
Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) has tried and repeatedly failed to push for a bipartisan map-drawing process in Maryland since he was elected, but his proposals have floundered in the General Assembly.
Legislators also urged Sarbanes to continue his public support for the state’s Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community amid a spike in anti-Asian violence across the country. Sen. Clarence K. Lam (D-Howard) noted that Howard County has the highest proportion of Asian Americans as a percentage of its population in the state.
“Your constituents and my constituents include many in the Asian American Pacific Islander community,” Sarbanes said in his opening remarks to lawmakers. “And I know members of that community have been shaken to the core in recent weeks by the shootings in Atlanta, but also by the unveiling of what is this level of sort of bigotry that’s been targeting members of that community for some time now, and it’s incumbent on all of us to again have a collective and sustained response to that.”
Sarbanes and Howard County delegation members didn’t directly address controversial comments about the origins of the novel coronavirus by Dr. Robert Redfield, a senior health adviser to Hogan and former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director. Redfield said he believed the virus “escaped” from a lab in China in 2019 during an interview with CNN.
The World Health Organization previously concluded that it was “extremely unlikely” that COVID-19 escaped from a lab, and experts believe the virus transferred from an animal to humans.
Redfield’s comments drew widespread condemnation from lawmakers, with Lam warning that such rhetoric “fuels misperceptions about the virus [and] inappropriately attributes the origins of this worldwide natural tragedy to a specific country and specific people.”
Michael Ricci, a spokesman for Hogan, previously said that Redfield “expressly says he’s not implying intentionality” in the CNN interview.