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Montgomery County Residents Debate Multi-Member Districts At Redistricting Hearing

Several Montgomery County residents at a public hearing Wednesday evening urged members of the Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission to keep multi-member districts in their proposed maps, arguing that such districts empower historically disenfranchised voters.

Maryland uses a mix of single- and multi-member districts in its state legislative maps, but Montgomery County is currently exclusively made up of multi-member districts. Michelle C. Whittaker, a county Democratic activist and operative, said multi-member districts are part of why Maryland’s General Assembly leads other states in inclusive representation.

“We have increased women’s representation through having multi-member districts at the legislative level, and we’ve had the opportunity to elect more people of color,” Whittaker said.

Natali Fani-González, the vice chair of the Montgomery County Planning Commission and a candidate for a county council seat, said she felt having three delegates to contact in the General Assembly gives her access to a wider range of issues than just having one.

“I love the fact that I have three delegates and one senator,” she said. “If I have an issue on transportation, I know who to call. If I have another issue related to civil rights, I know who to call.”

The issue of whether voters are better represented in single or multi-member districts has been repeatedly brought up during the Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission’s first round of public hearings ahead of the release of U.S. Census redistricting data. In creating the commission, Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) mandated that single-member districts be used in proposed legislative maps, to the extent practicable.

Proponents of single-member districts argue they give constituents more personalized, accessible representation. Montgomery County Republican activist Ryan Gniadek told commission members that single-member districts would allow the cities of Rockville and Gaithersburg to have their own delegate. They currently share three delegates and one state senator.

“Those are two very distinct communities that both deserve their own representation,” Gniadek said.

Alexander Bush, another GOP activist, said that in a densely populated jurisdiction like Montgomery County, drawing single-member districts would create “walkable” districts and give political newcomers a better shot at winning elections.

Linda Dorsey-Walker, who ran unsuccessfully for a Baltimore County legislative district in 2018, said multi-member districts encourage more competition in elections because they aren’t “one-on-one” competitions. She said they also make it easier for third-party candidates to run.

“The strength of those districts rest on their ability to generate more balanced representation,” she said.

Melissa Urofsky of the Montgomery County League of Women Voters said using single-member legislative districts in maps would make it harder to “avoid splitting up important communities of interest.” She said the commission should keep the state’s current hybrid system and be flexible on using single and multi-member districts.’

Others charged that the debate for single- and multi-member districts was taking up too much of the commission’s time.

“I think this whole effort for redistricting for congressional districts got hijacked by this proposal for legislative redistricting and single member districts,” Michael Lore, chief of staff to Sen. Susan C. Lee (D-Montgomery County), said. Lore said he was testifying on behalf of himself, not the senator. “There’s no way it’s going to pass the House. They’re going to not vote for this themselves, to cannibalize their districts.”

County residents also urged commission members to keep communities whole and draw compact congressional districts.

“I love Western Maryland, but truthfully my concerns as a resident of Gaithersburg differs sharply from those of a resident of Allegany and Garrett county,” Mary Lanigan, a resident of Maryland’s 6th Congressional District, said.

The Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission’s next public hearing will be held next Wednesday at 6 p.m. and will focus on Prince George’s County. Hogan tasked that commission with drawing up maps that he will propose to the General Assembly, where Democrats hold a veto-proof majority.

Lawmakers will have the final say over any proposed maps. The General Assembly’s own commission is also set to conduct public hearings on redistricting later this summer.


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Montgomery County Residents Debate Multi-Member Districts At Redistricting Hearing