Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Governor Hogan's Gerrymander Solution

A good start, but not quite right.

Governor Hogan is pushing for redistricting reform. This is an important reform for the state of Maryland, given that it is one of the most gerrymandered in the country.

For those who don't know, redistricting is the process by which Congressional and state legislative districts are set. This determines which district your address is in. There are a few rules on the Federal level, basically that the number of people in each district must be sort of close to equal, the district has to be one piece, and the districts that have a majority that is non-white stay that way. (The latter rule is not one that the Supreme Court openly admits too.)

The lack of clear rules leads to the issue: Gerrymandering. This is when the districts are arranged in such a way as to assure a specific outcome. In some states, the districts are arranged to insure that current officeholders don't lose. Here in Maryland the districts are arranged so that Democrats win all but one seat.

It is, in effect, a legal form of vote-rigging. This is accomplished through very careful construction of districts. Maryland's Third District is constructed with only one goal in mind - keeping Democrat John Sarbanes in that seat.

You can see how it cuts up communities, how northern Baltimore County and Baltimore City are in the same district with western Baltimore County and some of Howard County, and the state capitol, Annapolis in Anne Arundel. But Pikesville has more in common with Lutherville and Timonium than with Annapolis.

But the point here is not to create a district that has unified concerns and common needs. The point is to elect John Sarbanes. In fact, a district that was contiguous and represented may actually represent a problem. As it is, every Maryland Representative can ignore all local issues, because each community is in a district separate from most of it's neighbors and connected to far-flung communities who don't share those problems.

Governor Hogan's plan primarily focuses on creating an independent commission that will draw the district lines throughout the state. This is an attempt to remove the redistricting process from the political process. It's an admirable impulse, but the political process is the human process. Eventually, the commission would end up captured either by favor-traders or political operatives. Either way, we'd eventually end up in roughly the same situation we're in now, except the problem would be concealed by an "independent" commission.

The best solution is adding to the Maryland Constitution a simple rule: When setting up electoral districts, priority must be given to population and natural and pre-existing political and community boundaries. That way, no matter who handles the actual redistricting process, it has to be done fairly. And if it is not done fairly, courts would empowered to step in and declare gerrymandered districts illegal. This simple solution is in-use already in many states, and works well. Occasionally, lawsuits are required to overturn cheat districts, but the threat alone (and respect for the law) works for the vast majority of legislators. It works, and it is not open to small cabals of appointees.

You can now like me on Facebookcontribute support to my work and follow me on Twitter and if you run a Maryland political group, I am offering free video work this year.

1 comment:

  1. Only problem is that since SCOTUS requiring minority majority districts, plans --- even aa logical as yours --- would likely be shot down.