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Voters Likely To Decide Fate Of Maryland Redistricting

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Maryland lawmakers instituted a new map of Congressional districts last year, but that map could be overturned by referendum in November.
Robert Williams (http://www.flickr.com/photos/rwillia532/6023529955/)
Maryland lawmakers instituted a new map of Congressional districts last year, but that map could be overturned by referendum in November.

Voters in Maryland could decide as many as four statewide referendums this November. So far same-sex marriage and the DREAM Act are getting most of the attention as far as the fall's referendums go, and if the General Assembly approves gaming expansion by the middle of next month, voters must have their say on that as well. The one issue that will likely go before voters that has so far managed to stay out of the headlines is the new Congressional redistricting map.

Many opponents of redistricting

Republican Del. Neil Parrott of Washington County started the website MDPetitions.com to get the matter on the ballot. The redrawn 3rd District, represented by Democrat John Sarbanes, in particular, draws his ire.

"Which starts in Annapolis, shoots across where there are no connections through Anne Arundel County into Howard County," says Sarbanes. "It goes all the way to Montgomery County, then comes back through Howard County. Then to the east side of Baltimore city and then shoots to the northwest part of Baltimore City."

The GOP stands to lose the most from the new map, though many minority groups who tend to vote Democratic also believe their voting strength will be diluted by the latest round of redistricting. The process that led to the new map earned Maryland a D-minus grade in the State Integrity Investigation. Overall, the state earned the same mark.

Gerrymandering a national problem

Dr. Todd Eberly, a political analyst at St. Mary's College of Maryland, says Democrats clearly used redistricting to benefit their party, but he's quick to add that Republicans that control legislatures in other states do the same.

"In states like Texas, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania, Republicans drew lines in a way that absolutely benefited them," says Eberly. "Districts nearly if not as egregious as the districts we see in Maryland in the 2nd and 3rd."

Eberly says a few states are beginning to take partisanship out of redistricting, which he believes Maryland needs to move toward. Eberly points to California, where a non-partisan citizen's commission did redistricting last year. In the prior decade, only once did any of the state's 53 Congressional seats change parties in an election.

"That's how well drawn those districts were to ensure an outcome," says Eberly. "After the citizen's commission has redrawn those districts, roughly a quarter to a third of the seats in California are rated as toss-ups."

Eberly believes the quickest way for Maryland to head down a similar path is for voters to reject the new map in November at the polls.

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