Maryland received a C grade for its recent redistricting effort, according to a new report released by Common Cause that is critical of the Maryland General Assembly’s role in the process.
The report praises the efforts of a commission appointed by former Gov. Larry Hogan (R). The grade is dragged down by criticisms of a legislative effort the group found was highly partisan and lacked public transparency.
“It did receive a C as the grade in the report and the advocates really mentioned the challenges of the current structure, and really suggested the key recommendation being to move forward with some sort of independent redistricting commission in the state,” said Elana Langworthy, deputy policy director of State Voices, which is part of the Coalition Hub for Advancing Redistricting & Grassroots Engagement that helped grade the 50 states.
The report card released Wednesday by Common Cause is based on interviews and surveys conducted by the coalition. The group reviewed state and congressional redistricting efforts nationally following the 2020 Census and recommends changes for the future.
Maryland joins 14 other states given a grade of C-minus to C-plus.
Two states received an A-minus. Seven received an F.
As part of its recommendations, the coalition suggested that Maryland move to an independent commission to oversee the next redistricting effort.
The authors of the report said Maryland’s grade was bolstered by Hogan’s attempt to promote maps drawn by an independent commission he appointed.
“That grade is an average, including some students who deserved F’s,” said Walter Olson, who served as co-chair of Hogan’s independent commission. “If those students are running the process next time, then we’re going to get nostalgic for a C.”
The report card for Maryland attempted to grade an effort that included map commissions working parallel to each other.
Hogan, a two-term Republican, made redistricting reform a central part of his tenure since his 2015 inauguration.
The Democratic-controlled legislature rejected his repeated pre-Census efforts to pass legislation creating an independent panel to redraw state and congressional districts.
Hogan, rather than taking a hand in drawing maps, appointed a panel based on other states that use independent commissions. The panel included Democrats, Republicans, and independent voters.
Hogan’s panel had no legal mandate. The General Assembly ignored its recommendations and instead passed its own maps recommended by a panel that included two Democratic and two Republican lawmakers.
The Common Cause report criticized the effort for lacking public transparency. Congressional and legislative district maps were drawn in private, and the public had limited input before they were sent to the General Assembly, according to the coalition.
Sen. Melony Griffith (D-Prince George’s), the only Democrat from the panel still in the General Assembly, did not respond to a request for comment.
“Maryland fortunately does have some potential bipartisan protections built into it,” said Dan Vicuña, national redistricting director for Common Cause. “Ultimately, it’s still a process driven by elected officials. So, I think that the more that we can move away from politician control, you’re certainly going to see better maps.”
Vicuña said the fact that Maryland did not get a failing grade “is a reflection of the successes in court.”
Both the state legislative and congressional district maps were challenged in court.
The Court of Appeals, now called the Supreme Court of Maryland, accepted a special magistrate’s recommendation to reject four challenges to the state’s 47 legislative districts that included a hodgepodge of single and multi-member House of Delegates districts.
Senior Judge Lynne A. Battaglia ruled that new congressional districts drawn by the legislature constituted “extreme partisan gerrymandering.”
The ruling was based on a novel application of the Maryland Constitution — which mandates that state legislative districts be compact and respect natural and political boundaries — to congressional districts, which had no such legal requirement. The ruling is not precedent-setting and would not necessarily affect a future map.
Following the opinion, lawmakers scrambled to redraw the eight districts rather than appeal Battaglia’s decision. That map was also criticized by advocates and Republican lawmakers, but resulted in more compact districts, which crossed fewer county and municipal borders.
“Maryland is an unusual case,” said Vicuña. “…Having a governor of a different party produce less partisan maps did play somewhat of a role in the outcome of writing some options for a court when congressional maps were struck down as a violation of the state constitution.”