Maryland Republicans are driving efforts to overturn the state’s newly drawn congressional map in a referendum next month, but they are joined by a number of Democrats who say their own party has gone too far in crafting districts for political gain.
Numerous Montgomery County Democrats are scheduled to hold a news conference Monday in Rockville during which they are expected to urge a “no” vote on ballot Question 5, which would reject the district map drawn last year by Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley and approved by the General Assembly.
Critics have accused the map’s makers of lumping disparate communities together and diluting minority influence in an effort to give Democrats the majority in most districts. Opponents hope they can overturn the map and force the governor to draw a fairer one in time for the 2014 elections, but their ultimate goal is to establish a nonpartisan redistricting commission they say is the only solution to gerrymandering.
“Since political parties gerrymander whenever they can, Maryland needs an independent redistricting commission,” said Montgomery County Council member Phil Andrews, a Democrat. “But there is no chance the governor and General Assembly will establish one unless Marylanders first reject this extreme gerrymander.”
Last year’s approved congressional map raised the ire of Republicans and many black Democrats, who waged an unsuccessful lawsuit against the map before gathering enough voter signatures to have it put on next month’s ballot.
The vote on Question 5 will not affect this year’s congressional elections. But if voters reject the ballot initiative, the governor and assembly would have to repeat the redistricting process and approve a new map in time for 2014.
Many skeptics have questioned the strategy behind the referendum, arguing that the governor and Democratic lawmakers are unlikely to draw a drastically different plan if the current one is overturned.
Every 10 years, the governor appoints a five-member committee to redraw the state’s congressional and legislative districts to account for population changes. The committee submits its recommended maps to the assembly.
Opponents were able to petition the congressional map to referendum because it was passed as law by the assembly. The state also approved a new legislative map earlier this year that drew criticism from lawmakers and residents alike. It is not eligible for referendum because it went into effect without a formal assembly vote, a procedure outlined in the state constitution.
Antonio Campbell, a Republican and president of Marylanders for Coherent and Fair Representation, said he hopes the referendum will at least put pressure on Democrats to draw a fair map or face angering the public in 2014, when all state elected officials will be up for re-election.
“I think we have a really good shot at pulling this off, in spite of the fact that we haven’t raised any money,” Mr. Campbell said, referring to the anti-gerrymandering campaign as a “grass-roots effort.” “If we’re able to get the map in front of enough people, we’ll win this.”
Mr. Campbell said he knows of growing dissatisfaction with the redistricting process among state lawmakers. In coming years, he expects bipartisan bills to reform the process.
Democrats who support the state’s approved map have often defended it in relatively lukewarm terms, pointing out it was drawn through an open process that included public hearings and that it withstood a court challenge from opponents.
“You can’t defend the map,” said Todd Eberly, director of public policy studies at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. “It was done for incumbent protection.”
Mr. Eberly, who has been highly critical of the map, said he supports turning the state’s redistricting over to nonelected officials who he says would be less likely to act in the dominant party’s interest.
He said reform is probably a long way off but noted a “no” vote on Question 5 is not out of the realm of possibility. There has been little polling or publicity on the issue, which he said could be an advantage for opponents.
“When people aren’t sure about something, they tend to vote against it,” he said. “I don’t know that it’s a pipe dream. There is a lot of distrust with the government and this is one of the few ways that people can express it.”