Members of the Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission heard a familiar appeal from residents of Baltimore City and Anne Arundel and Howard counties at a virtual hearing Wednesday evening: Don’t split neighborhoods and communities in proposed maps.
Julia Nickles Bryan, speaking on behalf of the League of Women Voters of Baltimore City, highlighted the neighborhood of Belair-Edison in her testimony. She noted that the small community in the northeastern part of the city is currently split between three congressional districts.
“The lines are drawn in a way that in some cases makes absolutely no sense,” Nickles Bryan said.
Keeping communities whole has been a common theme throughout the Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission’s first round of public hearings. The panel has so far conducted virtual hearings focusing on the Eastern Shore, and the southern, northern and western regions of the state, with residents repeatedly urging commission members to keep neighborhoods intact.
Abby Root of the Anne Arundel County League of Women Voters noted that her county is currently split between four congressional districts, and none of the elected representatives live in the county.
“Anne Arundel County residents need dedicated representation, not more representation,” she said.
State Sen. Edward R. Reilly (R-Anne Arundel County) likewise said the jurisdiction should be united into one legislative district in the next round of redistricting rather than again split between multiple districts.
Some residents who testified also urged commission members to adopt single-member legislative districts in proposed maps, another topic that has often been brought up during the commission’s first round public hearings.
In creating the multi-partisan commission via executive order earlier this year, Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) required commission members to incorporate single-member districts, to the extent practicable, in their proposed maps. The state currently has a mix of single and multi-member legislative districts.
Anne Arundel County Resident Mark Ritterpusch said multi-member districts “dilute the relationship between representatives and voters.”
“Please, eliminate hybrid districts in the state,” Ritterpusch said. “Doing so will help keep our communities together and lawmakers accountable.”
Zulieka Baysmore, a Baltimore resident who was a candidate in the city’s Republican mayoral primary last year, said a move toward single-member districts would “narrow the monopoly of just a one-party group.”
But Beth Hufnagel of the Howard County League of Women Voters urged commission members to be “flexible” as to the question of single or multi-member districts.
“In some situations, multi-member districts better promote full minority representation and preserve political and community boundaries,” Hufnagel said.
Others spoke in support of multi-member districts: Danyell Smith, a Baltimore County resident, said gerrymandering has harmed minority communities in the state – and that multi-member districts could offer them broader representation.
“I wholeheartedly do not agree with one legislator per district,” Smith said, “In fact, we need more representation.”
Nickles Bryan said commission members should take a case-by-case approach to single and multi-member districts, and use multi-member districts “where citizens want them.”
The commission is currently conducting a preliminary round of public hearings before the release of Census redistricting data in August. Maps drawn up by the commission and proposed by Hogan will ultimately be subject to approval from the General Assembly. The commission’s next meeting is set for Monday, July 12 and will focus on Baltimore County.