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Government & Politics

Shore Residents Say Legislative Redistricting Panel Should Boost Representation of People of Color

The Maryland Citizen’s Redistricting Commission heard testimony from Eastern Shore residents on Monday about new congressional and legislative district boundaries. Photo illustration by Danielle E. Gaines.

Eastern Shore residents urged members of the Legislative Redistricting Advisory Commission to boost representation for people of color in their legislative maps at a Monday evening public hearing.

Sonya Whited, a Wicomico County resident, said during a public hearing at the Todd Performing Arts Center in Wye Mills that the commission should look at drawing an additional single-member delegate district with a majority of people of color on the Eastern Shore in their proposed legislative maps in addition to District 37A, which is represented by House of Delegates Speaker Pro Tem Sheree Sample-Hughes (D).

“We are at the point where carving out one minority district represented by Delegate Sheree Sample-Hughes is not enough to truly address the concerns of other minority and sometimes marginalized communities,” Whited said. “I am hopeful that this critical district could be part of the fair map drawing process versus a court case.”

Patrick Firth, the chair of the Talbot County Democratic Central Committee, said the panel could create an additional single-member district that would stretch from Salisbury University to the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, the historically Black university in Princess Anne.

“It’s time for the General Assembly to recognize the changing population and growing diversity the Eastern Shore,” Firth said.

He also said Talbot County should be drawn into a single-member district with parts of Caroline Counties rather than a broader district with portions of the lower Eastern Shore.

Whited also said she wants the commission to largely keep multi-member delegate districts in their legislative maps. Maryland’s delegate maps currently contain a mix of single- and multi-member districts, with multi-member districts generally used in more densely populated areas and some rural areas including on the Eastern Shore. Whited and other proponents of multi-member districts say having multiple delegates gives voters access to legislators with different areas of expertise and broader representation.

Single-member districts are generally used in geographically larger and more rural districts or when required by the Voting Rights Act to ensure representation of people of color. They are also sometimes used when a portion of a senatorial district crosses county lines. Proponents of single-member delegate districts say they make it easier for political newcomers to challenge incumbents and also give voters a single point of contact in the House of Delegates.

Diana Waterman, a Queen Anne’s County resident and former state Republican Party chair, testified in favor of single-member districts at the public hearing, and argued that using single-member districts statewide “would ensure that all citizens receive the same level of service from their delegate.”

Waterman said the LRAC should consider supporting maps drawn up by the Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission, a multi-partisan panel created by Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) and tasked with drawing up congressional and legislative maps that he will propose to the General Assembly. That panel recently released draft delegate maps with both single- and multi-member districts based largely on population density, and will hold a virtual public hearing Wednesday at 6 p.m.

The General Assembly, where Democrats hold a veto-proof majority in both the House of Delegates and the Senate, will have the final say over the state’s next set of maps, and legislative leaders created the bipartisan LRAC to draw up their own set of maps.

Sen. Adelaide C. Eckardt (R-Lower Shore) said she supports single-member districts to ensure that individual counties have a shot at electing local delegates.

“Most of the counties want to make sure that they have somebody that lives in their district representing them,” Eckardt said.

Kathleen Bangert, speaking on behalf of several Eastern Shore chapters of the League of Women Voters, said her organization supports maintaining a mix of single- and multi-member districts in legislative maps.

“It is our position that the right mix of the two helps to promote full minority representation, preserve political and community boundaries, and encourage a more diverse candidate pool,” Bangert said.

Some Eastern Shore residents who testified at the public hearing also said the commission should look at crossing the Chesapeake Bay to include portions of Anne Arundel County with the Eastern Shore in congressional maps. The 1st Congressional District currently stretches into Harford, Carroll and Baltimore counties — but some who testified said Eastern Shore residents have more in common with Anne Arundel County because of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.

“There is clearly a strong association between the Eastern Shore and Anne Arundel-related business and workforce development interests that impact our shared regional economy,” Chestertown resident Rebecca Flora said.

Tara Newman-Bell, a Talbot County resident, said in addition to ensuring that people of color’s voting power isn’t diluted and that maps aren’t drawn to favor any particular political party, commission members should provide clear rationale behind their eventual congressional and legislative maps.

The LRAC’s next meeting will focus on Southern Maryland and is set for Thursday, Oct. 28 at 6 p.m. at North Point High School, Cafeteria, 2500 Davis Road, Waldorf, MD 20603.

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Shore Residents Say Legislative Redistricting Panel Should Boost Representation of People of Color