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As Long as We Remember...

October 7, 2011

Deconstructing the Redistricting Proposal

Joe Charlebois

Imagine seven of Maryland’s eight congressmen living less than 20 miles from each other. Imagine the City of Baltimore not having a congressman in the House of Representatives. Imagine the congressman representing Oakland, MD, living in North Potomac or one from Chevy Chase representing Keymar or Taneytown.


All of these scenarios are possible if the Maryland General Assembly accepts without change the congressional redistricting plan proposed by committee appointed to draw the new lines by Gov. Martin O’Malley. This congressional map has serious flaws. If approved as it now stands, then it should be challenged and taken to court.


Most noticeably the City of Baltimore with a shrinking population of 620,000 people could be left with no representative in the House of Representatives as the new map continues to leave it split into three separate districts.


The seventh district covering the center of Baltimore City and a large portion of rural Howard County and currently represented by Elijah Cummings, will have an ever increasing dilution of the city vote. The new plan joins the existing district with an upside down horseshoe shape of additional voters extending north from Howard County along the east side of the Liberty Reservoir and continuing a thin line north before turning east to cut out a moderately large slice of northern Baltimore County, altogether avoiding the city line.


The second and third districts have less of an impact on the heart of Baltimore as they continue to pick up Baltimore’s waterfront residents and the northern neighborhoods of the city. But the third district is even more “gerrymandered” than former Gov. Parris Glendenning’s plan was 10 years ago. Then it stretched from what used to be a “Z” pattern surrounding the City of Baltimore and dipped down the Chesapeake to include Annapolis. The new district includes most of those areas but then stretches far to the east to pickup parts of Howard County as well.


If the opponents of this plan needed to look for a reason to challenge this plan it would be the meandering nonsense of the projected boundaries of this district represented by John Sarbanes (D., Towson).


Even though the 1901Apportionment Act was the first such act to demand that districts were to be of equal population, contiguous and of “compact territory,” it would all be for naught. In 1932’s Wood v. Broom, the Supreme Court of the United States established the permanent method of calculating and apportioning the number of seats in the House of Representatives. Regrettably it failed to keep the language of equal population, contiguous and compact.


Since then the practice of “creative” redistricting has abounded in a number of states under both Republican and Democrat controls. This year in Maryland it is the Democratic administration that seeks to eliminate any Republican representation in Congress that is outside of stacking the Eastern Shore’s First District with large numbers of registered Republicans.


With the new lines stretching into even more unfamiliar territory, there is a possibility that seven congressmen can be elected from the Washington suburbs. This is akin to reverting to electing at-large candidates. Taking this absurdity a step further, two congressmen with Rockville ZIP codes could represent the entire western portion of rural Maryland.


Washington suburbs have little in common with the farmers of Garrett, Allegheny, Washington and most of Frederick County. Current plans would likely eliminate adequate representation for rural Maryland. The Sixth District would add more than 350,000 of Montgomery County residents, while removing a large portion of Frederick, Carroll, Baltimore and Harford counties. This would severely alter the makeup of the district.


Another startling possibility is that there may only be five out of the 23 counties and the City of Baltimore that would be represented in Congress. Two could come from Montgomery County, two from Howard, two from Prince George’s County, one from Queen Anne’s and Anne Arundel respectively.


A plan that was put forward in July by the Republican Party – and independently analyzed by Todd Eberly – holds most true to the principles of one man, one vote.


Mr. Eberly, who is from St. Mary’s College of Maryland in St. Mary’s City, is an assistant professor of political science and a Washington Post contributor. He points to the fact that a state’s districts can be drawn by the methods of the 1901 Apportionment plan and still maintain the political representation and influence of the majority party. His op-ed piece, published in The Washington Post on July 15th, does a fantastic job of breaking down the best method of reapportionment.


Based on Mr. Eberly’s analysis, the opponents of the governor’s plan can make a good argument for new lines to be drawn. Lines that link constituencies together in a sound geographical and demographical way are the way this process should be done.


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