- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 27, 2002

ANNAPOLIS The chief architect of Maryland's new legislative districts defended the plan yesterday against charges that it violates constitutional requirements and should be rewritten.

Secretary of State John Willis said the plan balances the sometimes competing requirements that districts be relatively equal in population, be compact and contiguous, regard political and natural boundaries and protect minorities' voting rights.

Fourteen suits were filed challenging some or all of the plan and asking the state Court of Appeals to correct the perceived flaws.

Mr. Willis said any changes made in response to any of the suits would create problems in other districts.

"You could theoretically draw 100,000 plans," he told retired Judge Robert Karwacki, whom the court appointed as a special master to hear the complaints and recommend what, if any, changes should be made.

Mr. Karwacki planned to wrap up the hearing yesterday but had to extend it to Monday when proceedings ran longer than expected.

He must submit a report by May 24 to the appeals court, which has scheduled another hearing for June 10.

Mr. Willis was chairman of a commission that prepared a redistricting plan for Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat. The new districts will be used to choose 47 senators and 141 House members in elections in 2002, 2006 and 2010.

Mr. Karwacki had little to say during the two days of hearings, but he did question Mr. Willis about the district lines on the lower Eastern Shore.

The commission created a district that begins in Somerset County and meanders up the Shore as far north as Caroline County.

One result was to place Sen. J. Lowell Stoltzfus, the Senate Republican minority leader from Somerset County, in a new district. The plan cuts him out of his old district by drawing the line just to the east of his house.

"Was [Stoltzfus] discussed specifically?" Mr. Karwacki asked.

"It was well known by all the commission members where incumbents lived," Mr. Willis responded.

Republicans say the commission took most of Somerset County out of a district with Worcester County and part of Wicomico County to make it harder for Mr. Stoltzfus to win re-election.

Mr. Willis said the commission tried to make as few changes as possible but that lines had to be redrawn all over the state because some areas lost population while others grew rapidly.

He said many changes were necessary to comply with federal law requiring that districts be drawn in such a way as to give minorities a fair chance at electing legislators.

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