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Western Maryland Residents Voice Frustrations Over Current Congressional Districts At Redistricting Hearing

Maryland’s 6th Congressional District — which was the subject of a legal battle that rose all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court — was at the forefront of a Wednesday evening Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission public hearing focused on Western Maryland.

The 6th District was the target of the gerrymandering lawsuit that eventually landed in the U.S. Supreme Court in 2019, although justices decided in a 5-4 ruling that it wasn’t their place to weigh in over partisan gerrymandering in Maryland or other states.

At the virtual hearing Wednesday, many residents remained frustrated over the 6th District’s boundaries, which run from Potomac in Montgomery County to the state’s furthest western point in Garrett County.

Genie Massey, who spoke on behalf of the Washington County League of Women Voters, said the 6th Congressional District was “drawn to the advantage of one party, rather than to the advantage of the residents of Western Maryland.”

Residents emphasized the vast differences between the largely rural western region of the state and the more heavily populated Montgomery County.

“The geographic areas of these two districts represent areas with significant differences in needs,” Carole Jaar Sepe of the Frederick County League of Women Voters said of the 6th and 8th congressional districts.

Other residents spoke of feeling disenfranchised by the state’s current congressional maps, with Washington County resident Robert Keane saying he doesn’t feel that Western Maryland residents are being “adequately represented” under the current configuration.

As with past public hearings the commission has conducted, residents urged commission members to keep communities whole. Frederick County resident Steven Clark said he lives in the 8th District, but lives “right across the street” from the 6th District. Frederick County is currently split between those two districts, with the 6th capturing southern portions of the county and the City of Frederick, and the 8th enveloping the rest of the jurisdiction.

Clark said commission members should unify Frederick County in their proposed maps, and that Frederick County should be drawn into a “united” Western Maryland district.

Richard Kaplowitz, who is also a Frederick County resident, said commission members should view the state as a “collection of neighborhoods” in drawing districts, and that neighborhoods should largely be kept together. Kaplowitz also said commissioners should avoid diluting the power of minority communities in proposed maps.

“If you are cutting up or cutting through minority populations, you are diluting the political power of those minority populations,” he said.

Howard L. Gorrell, who sued former Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) over the state’s 2011 redistricting plan, urged members of the commission to use school districts as the basic building blocks of state and legislative districts in proposed maps. Gorrell has advocated using “clusters of high schools and their feeder schools” as communities of interest when drawing up maps.

The nine-member, multi-partisan panel was created via executive order by Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) to conduct public hearings and draw up the congressional and legislative maps he will propose to the General Assembly, where lawmakers will have the final say on the state’s new district configurations.

Democrats hold a veto-proof majority in both the House of Delegates and the Senate, and some residents who testified were concerned that the commission’s maps could be rejected or substantially altered.

Seth Wilson, a Washington County resident, said he expects “a totally partisan drawing of the maps by the legislature and probably a subsequent override of the governor’s veto.” (Maryland’s governor has the power to veto congressional districts, but not legislative districts.)

Wilson and other residents also pushed for single-member legislative districts in the commission’s proposed maps.

Del. Neil R. Parrott (R-Washington) said commission members should include single-member districts in their proposed maps. He said he was elected in 2010 to represent a single-member district, but that was changed into a multi-member district by the next election.

“It’s easier to be working with your constituents and to serve them well if it’s a single-member district” Parrott said. “They know who to talk to and who to reach out to.”

Clark said the state’s current mix of single and multi-member districts means “some people are getting more representation than others.”

“There’s a fundamental fairness issue at play here,” he said.

The Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission is currently holding a series of region-based public hearings ahead of the release of redistricting data from the U.S. Census Bureau. The commission’s next meeting will take place on Wednesday, July 7 focus on Baltimore City and Anne Arundel and Howard counties. Some fair elections advocates have voiced concerns about the large area covered in the next hearing, and previously asked commission members to hold a separate hearing for Baltimore City.

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Western Maryland Residents Voice Frustrations Over Current Congressional Districts At Redistricting Hearing