Northern Maryland Residents Urge Redistricting Commission To Keep Communities Whole In Proposed Maps

    Residents and lawmakers from Cecil, Harford and Carroll counties urged the Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission during a Wednesday public hearing to keep communities together during the next round of redistricting.

    Jim Thornton, who spoke on behalf of the Harford County Caucus of African American Leaders, urged commission members to merge legislative districts 34 A and B into a multi-member district with three delegates. He hoped that such a move would increase the chances of electing a person of color to the General Assembly.

    Thornton also asked commission members to draw up legislative districts to include just one county, so that legislators aren’t split between multiple jurisdictions.

    “This type of configuration unfortunately leads to one of the counties receiving less than full attention of the elected officials,” he said, noting that current legislative districts split Harford County.

    Vontasha Simms, a resident of Charles County in southern Maryland, also appeared at the meeting to urge members of the commission to keep her county whole in the proposed maps.

    “We feel that we should not be divided,” Simms said.

    Del. Susan W. Krebs (R-Carroll County) also advocated for keeping counties whole. She said that although Carroll County has an 11-member delegation, only four of those lawmakers actually live in the county.

    “Needless county splits in districts make it very hard to achieve strong ties between a county and its delegation,” she said.

    She also urged commissioners to adopt single-member districts, and noted that the use of multi-member districts is on the decline nationwide.

    Edward Johnson, a co-leader of the Maryland Legislative Coalition, called on the commissioners to broaden their outreach, and questioned the executive order from Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) creating the commission.

    Johnson noted that the order includes a slew of requirements for what commissioners can and can’t consider. The order bans maps proposed by the commission from accounting for “how individuals are registered to vote, how individuals voted in the past, or the political party to which individuals belong” or where lawmakers or potential candidates live.

    “Unless you invite all stakeholders to participate and give their opinions during meetings of the commission, you are Hogan’s commission and not a bipartisan citizens commission, which should be your intention,” Johnson said.

    The order requires that the commission’s proposed maps be geographically compact, comply with state and federal laws and judicial rulings and respect “natural boundaries and the geographic integrity and continuity” of cities, counties and other political subdivisions. It also requires, to the extent possible, that legislative maps be divided into single-member districts.

    Johnson said many residents have had the same legislators for years, and urged commissioners to “think outside of the box” in drawing up the maps.

    “Please remember that your job is more than creating districts,” Johnson said. “You are affecting people’s lives more than where they vote.”

    The commission is tasked with drawing up maps that Hogan will propose to the General Assembly. The final map configuration will ultimately be decided by the General Assembly, where Democrats hold a veto-proof majority.

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    Bennett Leckrone
    Leckrone is a December 2019 graduate of the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University. He has interned at The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Columbus Dispatch, PennLive.com, The Dayton Daily News and The Troy Daily News. Leckrone is a Report for America corps member.