Several recent editorials and commentaries criticize the new congressional districts. The opposition primarily focuses on the odd shapes of districts, without considering any of the other variables that come into play when drawing district lines.
First, the articles fail to point out that the new congressional Map withstood several legal challenges. A three-judge panel of the United States District Court found the map legal and constitutional, rejecting 1) a claim against our landmark decision to count prison population where they are originally from, as opposed to in their prisons; 2) claims that the map violated the Voting Rights Act; 3) a racial discrimination claim against the map, and 4) a claim that the map was gerrymandered. The decision was affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Most of the complaints seem to be about the 3rd Congressional District, which straddles the two metro regions of Baltimore and Washington, D.C., and includes parts of Baltimore, Howard, Anne Arundel and Montgomery counties. But, as Judge Niemeyer stated in his opinion upholding the legality of the map, “[T]he basic shape of some districts has not changed substantially since the last redistricting.” This is particularly true of District 3, which was actually redrawn by the Court of Appeals itself in 2002.
Additionally, the opponents argue that no “common interests” are shared between the communities in District 3. The truth is that just because two communities do not share a ZIP code does not mean they do not share common interests. The 3rd Congressional District comprises the communities along Interstate 95 that share many common interests including regional business relationships, issues around sprawl and maintaining infrastructure.
Reaching the ideal population for each congressional district is not simple. Adding to the difficulty of drawing “pretty districts” are the borders of our counties, municipalities, precincts and census blocks, which are not drawn in straight lines. Plus, Maryland’s geography is dominated by the Chesapeake Bay and is one of the most irregular-shaped states in the country. Keeping districts together as much as possible creates continuity that makes for more responsive and accountable representation. The 2012 congressional map actually keeps more Marylanders in their existing districts than did the 2002 plan — only 67 percent of Marylanders remained in their existing district under the 2002 plan; more than 70 percent remain in their current districts in 2012.
The map was based on the report of the Governor’s Redistricting Advisory Committee that incorporated 350 comments received from the public during 12 regional hearings last summer. It preserves our two majority minority districts, the 4th and 7th districts. The 5th Congressional District maintains its significant minority population and accurately reflects the growing diversity of Southern Maryland. District 1 keeps the nine Eastern Shore counties together and no longer crosses the Chesapeake Bay into more urban areas of Anne Arundel County. Instead, it runs into rural portions of Carroll County. Harford County is no longer split into three districts, a desire expressed by residents.
The other loud complaint is that this map is purely political. Was there a political component? Of course. However, although the new congressional map was drawn from a Democratic perspective, it was also drawn fairly. Districts 6 and 8 can both be considered more competitive.
In an ideal world, every state would have a separate, independent body drawing maps. Alas, this is not the case. Until such time that change occurs at the federal level, redistricting will continue to be a partisan process. In Republican-controlled states such as Texas and North Carolina, redistricting is used to their advantage.
As an elected leader who was part of the process, I can attest to the fact that this process was fair and transparent. It is a strong map that ensures equal representation for everyone. I urge you to vote FOR Question 5 because the map is fair, legal and protects the rights of all Marylanders.
Kathleen M. Dumais of Rockville is a state delegate (D-Dist. 15) who serves as vice chair of the House Judiciary Committee.