Democrats embrace partisan gerrymandering in an attempt to shut out Republicans in Maryland.
Despite Maryland’s history with gerrymandering allegations, Democrats created yet another convoluted map with districts that snake across the state.
The new map creates three majority nonwhite districts, an important feature for a state where nonwhite residents make up a majority.
Several groups have voiced their opposition to the new maps, including the state’s governor who vetoed the maps when they arrived at his desk. (The state House and Senate voted to override the governor’s veto, enacting the maps into law.)
UPDATE: The above districts have been overturned and Democrats passed new districts with the Republican governor’s signature on April 4. (Post with new district map and stats coming soon.)
Who’s In Control?
Maryland’s redistricting process is completely controlled by the state legislature and requires gubernatorial approval before being adopted. While Maryland currently has a Republican governor, Democrats are firmly in the driver’s seat as they hold a veto-proof majority in both state houses. Due to the state’s recent history with gerrymandering, Governor Hogan penned an executive order creating a citizens’ redistricting commission to provide recommendations to the state legislature. The nine-member body serves purely in an advisory role and the legislature is in no way bound to enact the recommendations from the independent commission.
How is this map legal?
Democrats’ decision to embrace partisan gerrymandering is borne out of failed legal challenges to the state’s previous sixth district. Benisek v. Lamone was a 2018 Supreme Court case brought forth by voters in MD-6, alleging that their right to political representation was impeded by partisan gerrymandering. The decision was released the same day as Gill v. Whitford, another gerrymandering case that was taken up simultaneously by the Supreme Court. Between the two cases, the Court ultimately decided that while extreme partisan gerrymandering can be unconstitutional, the Supreme Court is not responsible for determining what qualifies as “extreme.”
Since MD-6 survived the 2018 challenge, mapmakers embraced these tactics to consolidate power for Democrats. The new map retains much of the controversial sixth district and courts continued controversy in its redrawing of MD-1; flipping the state’s only Republican seat into a swing district that narrowly supported Joe Biden in 2020.
[INVALIDATED] District Breakdown
Let’s dive into the new MD-1: the state’s lone Republican district. For starters, mapmakers effectively “kidnapped” Rep. Andy Harris: moving the district’s boundaries to such a degree that the incumbent’s home address is no longer in his district. Now Harris lives in MD-2, roughly 15 miles away from the MD-1 boundary. (To be clear, federal law does not require representatives to live in the district they represent, they just have to live within the state.) While the previous district boundaries produced a deep-red, Eastern Shore anchored district, the new boundaries succeed in eroding the voting power of a reliable bloc of Republican voters.
The counties along Maryland’s Eastern Shore collectively supported Donald Trump by a 17-point margin. The only way mapmakers could blunt the power of this coalition was through using tactics employed in Maryland’s opposite panhandle. Over in Western Maryland, Donald Trump received almost double the votes Biden did in the three panhandle counties. Yet MD-6 remains blue due to the way it follows I-270 all the way down to Washington DC, scooping up enough heavily Democratic suburbs along the way. Just like in MD-6, the new MD-1 takes a trip across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge to scoop up Democratic voters in and around Annapolis, offsetting Republicans on the Eastern Shore.
Maryland also has some of the nation’s most maze-like districts, many of which are anchored in and around Baltimore. The most egregious offender is MD-3 which somehow manages to hold a few Washington DC suburbs, both the eastern and western suburbs of Baltimore, 15% of the Maryland-Pennsylvania border and most of the White neighborhoods in Baltimore city. It turns out, the odd contours of districts like MD-3 were borne out of commitment to provide adequate representation to racial minorities in other districts.
Maryland is one of six states to have a majority nonwhite population and Black residents make up over 30% of voters. As a result, Democratic mapmakers likely prioritized drawing minority-majority districts to ensure adequate representation of racial minorities and compliance with the Voting Rights Act. This is most clearly seen when looking at the way MD-7 snakes through Baltimore city. The state’s seventh district targets Black voters with startling precision, capturing almost every majority Black neighborhood in the city. MD-5’s odd tentacle jutting into MD-4 serves a similar purpose: it scoops up a collection of White neighborhoods, allowing MD-4 to be a heavily Black district like MD-7. However, the Citizens Redistricting Commission Plan is proof that this goal can be achieved without drawing oddly shaped districts that stretch across the state.
The Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission recommended a congressional map with compact districts that largely follow county boundaries. This plan would have given the rural panhandles the representation they deserve (without ‘kidnapping’ Andy Harris from his district) while also retaining the state’s majority-minority congressional districts. Under the commission’s plan, MD-4, MD-5, MD-7 would have all remained majority Black districts. In fact, the commission’s plan produces an extra majority-minority district in MD-2. (In the enacted plan, MD-2 stays majority White.) This example helps prove that Democrats had clear partisan goals with the maps they ultimately passed with the biggest impact seen in the controversial MD-6. (The commission’s plan would have made this a relatively safe Republican seat, supporting Trump in 2020 by a 17-point margin. The enacted plan swings the seat by almost 30 points toward Democrats.)
While Democrats were able to override Gov. Hogan’s veto, the map has already been challenged by two different lawsuits. Republicans submitted a lawsuit alleging discrimination against their voters while a separate case is asking for the Citizens Commission Redistricting Plan to be used in lieu of the Democrat-approved plan.