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Government & Politics

Republican Amendments to Legislative Redistricting Proposal Rejected in Senate

Senate Minority Whip Justin Ready (R-Carroll) makes a point during debate on a legislative redistricting plan on Wednesday. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

Republicans in the state Senate unsuccessfully attempted to bring back the Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission’s state legislative redistricting proposal via an amendment Wednesday.

The Senate Reapportionment and Redistricting Committee on Tuesday advanced a legislative redistricting proposal from the Legislative Redistricting Advisory Commission, a panel convened by Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) and House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County). The committee didn’t vote on a proposal from the Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission, a multi-partisan panel convened by Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R).

On Wednesday, Sen. Edward R. Reilly (R-Anne Arundel) attempted to swap out the Legislative Redistricting Advisory Commission maps with those proposed by the Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission — but his amendment to do so was ultimately defeated in a party-line 32-14 vote. A final vote on the Democratic plan is expected Thursday.

Democratic lawmakers criticized the Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission for scrapping existing maps in its legislative redistricting proposal.

“It wipes out years of history in this state,” Senate President Pro Tem Melony G. Griffith (D-Prince George’s) said of the decision to start from scratch in the Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission map.

The Legislative Redistricting Advisory Commission opted to start with existing districts and aimed to keep as many Marylanders in those existing districts as possible. One notable shift included the creation of a single-member, majority-Black delegate district around Owings Mills in District 11 to comply with the federal Voting Rights Act.

Other shifts in the map generally secure potentially vulnerable Democrats for reelection: District 9, for example, would be redrawn to include part of northern Montgomery County with Howard County rather than part of southern Carroll County as in current maps. That move could make reelection easier for Sen. Katie Fry Hester (D-Howard County).

Sen. Michael J. Hough (R-Frederick) said the map essentially means that Democratic-controlled districts won’t be competitive in the upcoming election.

“We are drawing maps that are completely partisan,” Hough said.

While both panels conducted public hearings and voting sessions, Republicans also criticized the Legislative Redistricting Advisory Commission for holding private work sessions as opposed to the public work sessions held by the Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission.

Griffith, who served on the Legislative Redistricting Advisory Commission, said no formal votes were taken at those work sessions, and instead panelists reviewed testimony and discussed draft maps. That panel included four Democratic legislative leaders and two Republican legislative leaders and was chaired by Karl Aro, a former head of the nonpartisan Department of Legislative Services.

Senate Minority Leader Bryan W. Simonaire (R-Anne Arundel), another member of that panel, said some of the work done in closed-door sessions was consequential — like deciding what draft maps would move forward and be presented to the public.

“I don’t want to minimize what we did in those work sessions,” Simonaire said.

Senate Republicans also took issue with population variances in the Legislative Redistricting Advisory Commission proposal. Lawmakers are generally allowed a plus or minus 5% population deviation in legislative districts; the Legislative Redistricting Advisory Commission proposal keeps that figure to plus or minus 4%.

Sen. J.B. Jennings (R-Harford) charged that the map “packs” Republicans in rural districts to dilute their vote. Districts on the Eastern Shore, for example, all have a positive deviation in the Legislative Redistricting Advisory Commission map.

But the map’s population deviations aren’t uniform: Districts in fast-growing and heavily Democratic Charles and Prince George’s counties, for instance, tend to have a positive population deviation as well.

Griffith said that 4% deviation is the lowest seen in Maryland legislative maps in recent rounds of redistricting.

“It is actually one of the most compliant maps in terms of the deviation that we’ve had in decades,” Griffith said, adding that population shifts over the last decade factored into population deviations in the map.

The Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission map kept population deviation to less than 2% for senatorial districts and less than 3% in delegate districts.

Other Republicans took issue with the Legislative Redistricting Advisory Commission’s configuration of single- and multi-member districts. The Maryland Constitution requires that state delegate districts be nested within senatorial districts and allows the use of both single- and multi-member delegate districts, with some hybrid districts that include both a single-member subdistrict and another two-member delegate subdistrict.

Sen. Jason C. Gallion (R-Harford) said he wanted to introduce an amendment that would stop the use of hybrid districts that include both a single-member subdistrict and two-member subdistrict. Gallion’s amendment would’ve required that those districts be replaced with three single-member delegate subdistricts.

Since his amendment was still being drafted Wednesday, Gallion requested to delay consideration of the legislative redistricting proposal until Friday. Sen. Delores G. Kelley (D-Baltimore County), however, said the General Assembly needs to move quickly to finalize the maps, citing Tuesday testimony from election officials who said lawmakers need to adopt the map as fast as possible so election staff can educate voters and prepare for the upcoming election.

“They have almost no time,” Kelley said.

Gallion’s request to delay the resolution was ultimately rejected. In an interview after the Wednesday morning floor session, Gallion said he was “disappointed” but expected his request to be rejected.

“This outcome was predetermined,” Gallion said.

The legislative redistricting process has in many ways mirrored its congressional counterpart, which the General Assembly took up during a special session in December. Republicans in both the House of Delegates and the state Senate attempted similar amendments to resurrect the Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission’s congressional maps at the time, but those efforts were likewise rejected.

The Senate is set to return at 10 a.m. Thursday, and will likely take up the Legislative Redistricting Advisory Commission’s proposal for a final vote then. Unlike congressional maps, Hogan can’t veto the General Assembly’s legislative maps.