I am happy to announce a victory for Anne Arundel County.
The question of Maryland’s eight congressional districts is now on the November election ballot. On July 20th the state Board of Elections confirmed that at least 55,736 Maryland voters petitioned the issue to referendum.
The question now before the voters is are the new boundaries to select Maryland’s eight members of congress fair, and do they provide the best representation to the 23 counties and the City of Baltimore. The answer by at least 55,736 Marylanders is “NO”.
Congressional districts are redrawn nationally, “redistricted”, after the ten year census to ensure equal representation by ensuring that each contains the same number of voters. After that there are few rules to restrict the creativity of politicians who are motivated by self preservation and increasing their power base.
That creativity has become brutally efficient with the rise of computers that can match voter histories and maps that allow politicians to go block by block to choose their voters. The state constitution states that districts “shall consist of adjoining territory, be compact in form, and of substantially equal population. Due regard shall be given to natural boundaries and the boundaries of political subdivisions”, but those requirements apply only to state districts.
Congressional redistricting has been greatly abused here in Maryland where reasonable guidelines of compactness and political boundaries were thrown out for partisan advantage. This year Maryland won the distinction of having the most “Gerrymandered” districts in the country.
The phrase stems from a district drawn by Massachusetts Governor Gerry who in 1812 drew a legislative district that looked like a salamander, which was promptly called a “Gerry-mander” and the term stuck; however, our own “O’Malley-manders” would have made poor Governor Gerry blush.
My own District 4 is one of the worst. Its major areas are Pasadena, Arnold, Severna Park, Oxon Hill, Suitland, and Seat Pleasant tied together by a thin line through Gambrills, Laurel and Beltsville. If looking at the map is not enough to convince you, a mathematical analysis was done by a firm in Philadelphia, Azavea, who compared the “compactness” of congressional districts and found that Maryland’s districts rank the lowest with a measurement of one third the national average.
The problem with spreading out the districts is that it hurts representative democracy. With communities split it is difficult for the average citizen to know who their representative is and to follow their work in Washington.
When a community is divided among four representatives, as is the case with Anne Arundel County, who really represents us? How can we get any of the four to truly focus on our issues when we are just a small minority of each of their overall constituencies?
Anne Arundel County’s voice is deliberately diluted by the current district configuration and getting the referendum on the ballot is a real victory. No one is more penalized by the current boundaries. If Anne Arundel County goes to the polls in November and soundly defeats the current districts, it could lead to greater concessions and more unity in the new districts which would be a real win for our county. I urge you to support the referendum.