Legislative Redistricting Advisory Commission Adopts Congressional Map to Present to General Assembly

The Maryland State House dome is lit up on the final day of the 2021 General Assembly session. Lawmakers are due back in Annapolis on Dec. 6 to establish new congressional district maps. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

Maryland’s 1st Congressional District would cross the Chesapeake Bay Bridge to include a small portion of Anne Arundel County with the Eastern Shore under proposed boundaries advanced by a legislative advisory panel Tuesday.

The Legislative Redistricting Advisory Commission’s vote, along party lines, avoids a configuration that would’ve included more of Anne Arundel County to shift the district’s demographics to more heavily favor Democrats.

As passed, the commission’s plan appears to move the currently solidly Republican district into toss-up territory with a slight Democratic lean.

The commission released four “concept” congressional maps for public comment earlier this month, and settled on a configuration similar to Plan 2 at their Tuesday evening meeting. Karl Aro, the chair of the redistricting commission and a former head of the nonpartisan Department of Legislative Services, said the map had been adjusted only slightly to cut back on population deviation.

While data on the partisan makeup of the slightly modified Plan 2 was not immediately available Tuesday, the commission’s concept Plan 2 included a 1st Congressional District that favors Democrats roughly 51%-49%, according to an analysis by the Princeton Gerrymandering Project, as opposed to another draft map, Plan 3, that had a wider 55%-45% margin. The Princeton Gerrymandering Project gave all four maps released by the commission a failing grade after researchers rated them on “partisan fairness,” “competitiveness” and “geographic features.”

The commission voted 4-2 to approve the congressional map, with the four Democratic legislative leaders on the panel voting for the map and the two Republican legislative leaders voting against it. Aro abstained from the vote as chair of the commission.

The General Assembly will take up the proposed congressional map in a special session beginning Dec. 6. Aro said the commission will produce draft legislative maps after that special session wraps up.

The congressional map adopted by the Legislative Redistricting Advisory Commission for General Assembly approval on Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021. Screenshot.

The Legislative Redistricting Advisory Commission was convened earlier this year by House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) and Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City). Jones and Ferguson both sit on the commission.

In addition to Jones and Ferguson, other lawmakers on the commission are Senate President Pro Tem Melony G. Griffith (D-Prince George’s County), House Majority Leader Eric G. Luedtke (D-Montgomery County), House Minority Leader Jason C. Buckel (R-Allegany County) and Senate Minority Leader Bryan W. Simonaire (R-Anne Arundel County).

Aro said the commission aimed to keep “as many people as possible in their current districts for continuity reasons,” but Simonaire, who previously predicted the commission’s final vote would come down to a party-line split, criticized the map for basing the district configurations off of the state’s current congressional map, which he said is “seriously gerrymandered.”

“If you’re starting from a baseline where it’s seriously gerrymandered, and our goal was to keep [residents] relatively in their same district, the end result is pretty much going to be gerrymandered again,” he said.

Plan 2 maintains some familiar congressional district features: It keeps the area surrounding College Park in the 5th District alongside southern Maryland, a longstanding ask from U.S. House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D), the dean of Maryland’s congressional delegation. It also keeps Fort Meade in the 2nd District, represented by Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D).

Buckel objected to the map over county splits, and questioned why the 5th District was drawn with the same “hook” that currently includes the area around College Park with southern Maryland. Luedtke, however, said counties don’t always reflect communities and where people live and work.

“What matters is connections between communities, more in my opinion than the lines that have were arbitrarily drawn on maps 200 years ago,” Luedtke said.

Luedtke said the map is more “compact and more contiguous” than the state’s current congressional maps. Ferguson added that the map creates two majority Black districts — District 4 and District 7 — and also creates a Black plurality in the 5th District.

“I think it’s a more accurate reflection of the Maryland population as a whole,” Ferguson said.

Marylanders who testified at a statewide virtual public hearing earlier this month had urged commission members to adopt Plan 3 in order to challenge the state’s lone congressional Republican, U.S. Rep. Andrew P. Harris, over his vote against certifying the 2020 election results after the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

“The existing congressional map has empowered an extremist to represent us with little fear of retribution for any of his actions or comments,” Queen Anne’s County resident Peter Behringer said at that statewide virtual hearing.

Behringer and others who testified said lawmakers should draw up a 1st District that is “competitive and balanced” and empowers people of color.

But residents of Cecil County objected to Plan 3 at a subsequent in-person public hearing because that configuration would have included the rural top-of-the-Bay county with portions of Baltimore City in the 2nd Congressional District. Cecil County is currently included with the entire Eastern Shore and portions of Harford, Baltimore and Carroll Counties in the 1st District.

“To smash together Baltimore and Cecil County is an absolutely insane idea because it doesn’t serve either party,” Cecil County Resident Bob Gatchel said at that meeting, which was held at Cecil College. “The needs and the differences are so diverse that any representation would just be bifurcated and lose a lot of power.”

Under Plan 2 adopted by the Legislative Redistricting Advisory Commission on Tuesday evening, Cecil County is kept with the Eastern Shore in the 1st Congressional District.

There is historical precedent for crossing the Chesapeake Bay in congressional maps: until 2012, the 1st Congressional District had included portions of the Eastern Shore and Southern Maryland or Anne Arundel County for decades.

Some Anne Arundel County and Eastern Shore residents have asked the Legislative Redistricting Advisory Commission at previous meetings to cross the Chesapeake Bay at the Bay Bridge.

Marnette Finn, an Anne Arundel County resident, said at the virtual statewide hearing earlier this month that the Eastern Shore is linked “culturally and economically” with Anne Arundel County because of the bridge. She said it makes more sense to connect the Eastern Shore with the rest of Maryland at the bridge rather than by going north through Harford County.

“Both regions have the same economic and environmental interest in protecting the Bay,” Finn said.

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 redistricting. Lawmakers are set to tackle congressional redistricting at a special session beginning Dec. 6

The congressional map proposed by the Legislative Redistricting Advisory is vastly different from the one proposed by the Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission, a multi-partisan panel created by Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) to draw up congressional and legislative maps that he will submit to the General Assembly.

The congressional map adopted by the Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission. Screenshot from Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission website.

The congressional map drawn up by Hogan’s commission minimizes county splits and received an overall “A” for partisan fairness from the Princeton Gerrymandering project.

The Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission’s maps create a 6-2 configuration, according to the Princeton Gerrymandering Project analysis, with a 1st District and a 6th District that favor Republicans.

Hogan has said he would veto any map from the General Assembly that differs from the Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission’s proposal, but lawmakers easily overrode his vetoes on several measures during the 2021 legislative session.

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