Incumbent Maryland Governor Larry Hogan (R) and former Governor Martin O’Malley (D), have both taken a public stance against gerrymandering- though not together
Gerrymandering is the intentional drawing of voting boundary lines within counties and states to favor one candidate or party over another. This is often done on the basis of demographics, including age, race, gender, and party affiliation. The gerrymandering process usually coincides with the US Census and is typically done every ten years.
Critics of Maryland’s congressional map claim that it is one of the most gerrymandered in the nation, with several districts contorted in ways that make little sense geographically. In 2014, The Washington Post declared Maryland (tied with North Carolina) the most gerrymandered state, citing the 3rd congressional district as the second-most gerrymandered in the country—lines that O’Malley helped draw. A federal judge once described this District as a “broken-winged pterodactyl, lying prostrate across the center of the state.”
A common misconception about gerrymandering is that it is exclusively proctored by Republican lawmakers, but Maryland’s voting lines were drawn by Democrats, indicating that gerrymandering is an issue that does not discriminate across party lines.
Hogan has proposed legislation that would create a nonpartisan redistricting panel, which would be responsible for settling legislative and congressional district lines in Maryland. His legislation never advanced out of committee in 2016 and is expected to face opposition during the current legislative session.
In 2016, Hogan announced that he had sent a letter to the now former President Obama asking for his assistance in advancing legislation for redistricting reform. The proposal was a November referendum on the creation of a nonpartisan committee to redraw state voting boundaries, but it failed to gain enough support.
Many Maryland Democrats, who hold strong majorities in the state legislature, have instead called for national or regional redistricting reform. They claim that they do not want to unilaterally redistrict Maryland’s borders while many Republican-dominated states continue gerrymandering.
O’Malley, during a speech in January at Boston College, recently admitted to gerrymandering during his time in office to help elect Democratic candidates to legislative positions. He supported gerrymandering during his initial campaign for Maryland governor and participated in the redrawing of state congressional districts in 2010.
O’Malley also admitted to ignoring concerns regarding gerrymandering and refraining from publicly denouncing or controlling its prevalence in Maryland politics. He cited legislative focus on other issues, such as the legalization of same-sex marriage and the death penalty, as part of the reason for his lack of action on the matter.
However, O’Malley now states that he has reversed his position. Like Hogan, he has expressed support for the creation of a nonpartisan commission to redraw voting maps. According to the Washington Post, he said, “Manipulating voting boundaries for political purposes digs ideological trenches around incumbents and deepens the nation’s political divisions.”
Despite their common goal, O’Malley and Hogan have a contentious history and have not expressed plans to form a united front against gerrymandering. Hogan inherited various challenges when O’Malley left office, such as several unpopular tax plans and a struggling private sector.
Junior Yannos Papaevangelou from Walter Johnson High School, said, “We learned about gerrymandering in AP Gov. I didn’t know it was so prevalent around here, but it’s definitely important that the governor is doing something about it.”
Caroline Diamond, parent of two students in MCPS had strong opinions on the issue. “The officials always do what’s best for them. The legislative boundaries are the most corrupt around, and they affect schools too,” she said. “My kids’ school is about 200 kids over-enrolled while two other schools within a mile are under-enrolled but they won’t change the boundaries. I feel that those politically involved should have to send their children to public schools. Things would change then.”
Article by MoCo Student staff writer Tatum Shirley of Walter Johnson High School