Maryland’s Senate voted 32-14, in a party-line vote, Thursday to advance a legislative redistricting proposal that is opposed by Republicans to the House of Delegates.
The vote means that the map, drawn by legislative leaders’ Legislative Redistricting Advisory Commission, could move through the House sometime next week. Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) can’t veto the General Assembly’s legislative maps, meaning they will become law after getting final approval from the House. A legal challenge is likely.
A proposal from the Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission — a panel of Republican, Democrat and unaffiliated voters convened by Hogan — was left without a vote in the Senate Reapportionment and Redistricting Committee earlier this week, although Republicans attempted to resurrect that map via an amendment Wednesday.
The Legislative Redistricting Advisory Commission proposal, in general, shores up potentially vulnerable Democrats for reelection. Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) and House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) convened that panel and served on it, alongside two other Democratic legislative leaders, two Republican legislative leaders and commission chair Karl Aro, a former head of the nonpartisan Department of Legislative Services.
Senate Republicans renewed their objections to the Legislative Redistricting Advisory Commission’s redistricting proposal Thursday. Sen. Edward R. Reilly (R-Anne Arundel) said the map disempowers independent voters by making districts less competitive, giving more weight to primary elections than general elections.
“Forty to 43 of these districts, both R’s and D’s, will be decided by the primary election,” Reilly said. “We’re disenfranchising an awful lot of people”
Sen. Adelaide C. Eckardt (R-Middle Shore) said relying on primary elections rather than general elections will lead to “polarization” in the General Assembly.
“We are pushing it to the extremes,” Eckardt said.
The Legislative Redistricting Advisory Commission’s proposal aims to keep as many Marylanders in their existing districts as possible. Democratic lawmakers highlighted that continuity of representation during floor debate Thursday.
Senate President Pro Tem Melony G. Griffith (D-Prince George’s), a member of the commission, said panelists found that Marylanders were “satisfied with their representation” during the commission’s statewide round of public hearings.
“We could not, for each member of this body, develop the ideal district or the ideal scenario,” Griffith said.
Senate Minority Leader Bryan W. Simonaire (R-Anne Arundel), another member of the Legislative Redistricting Advisory Commission, said his work on that panel was “one of the most personally difficult tasks” he has undertaken because he felt the outcome was predetermined.
“The majority could have gerrymandered this more,” Simonaire said. “It would’ve hurt their chances in court.”
Ferguson described redistricting as a “zero-sum game” and said he was proud of the Legislative Redistricting Advisory Commission’s map.
“When a line moves, someone wins and someone loses,” Ferguson said. “From the very beginning of this process, we led with a focus intently on creating a fair map that complied with all legal statutes,”
The House of Delegates will likely take up the Legislative Redistricting Advisory Commission’s proposal next week. Delegates are set to return at 3:30 p.m. Monday.
Editor’s Note: This story was updated to correct the political affiliation of Sen. Adelaide Eckardt.