A statewide petition drive is currently underway in Maryland to subject the state's newly re-drawn congressional map for voter approval for the first time since 1962. "Marymander" is the term used to describe the grotesquely misshapen districts that were approved last year by the Maryland General Assembly and Gov. Martin O'Malley. MDPetitions.com, the same grassroots group that spearheaded successful efforts to get referenda on the Dream Act and same-sex marriage on the November ballot, is going for the trifecta. Organizers hope to submit 55,736 valid signatures by the end of this month, to give state residents a chance to vote on a map that is now the prime example of the dark art of political gerrymandering.
The U.S. Constitution requires state legislatures to re-draw congressional districts every ten years, after the census, to take into account population shifts. In most states, the political party that controls the statehouse gets to draw the new lines. But the party in power invites a backlash when it abuses its constitutional responsibility by putting partisan political considerations above everything else.
That's what Democrats in Annapolis did when they moved a million Marylander voters -- 30 percent of the population -- into new congressional districts. They went to all this trouble just so they could make the district of nine-term Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, one of just two Republicans representing Maryland in Congress, more Democratic so they can defeat him this fall. The result is a "Rorschach-like eyesore" that totally ignores jurisdictional boundaries, physical barriers and communities of interest. The map's single-minded purpose is to expand Democratic power in an already heavily Democratic state.
The city of Baltimore is now divided between three separate congressional districts, which meet at the intersection of Belair Road and Chesterfield Avenue. The new 3rd District will vie for the title of worst gerrymander in America, stretching as it does from northern Montgomery County to Owings Mills and Annapolis, from Baltimore Inner Harbor to Prince George's County, with arms and fingers shooting off every which way. Even as he upheld the map against charges that it diluted minority representation, federal Judge Paul Niemeyer nevertheless remarked that the 3rd District was "more reminiscent of a broken-winged pterodactyl, lying prostrate across the center of the state."
The 4th and 8th districts, currently represented by Democrats Donna Edwards and Chris Van Hollen, are now multicounty blobs, each one bifurcated with an impossibly narrow isthmus between bulges.
"We win the prize for the most contorted redistricting in the nation," Rep. Bartlett noted, adding that in targeting him for extinction, Democrats in Annapolis "really shattered every reasonable conception of redistricting." They've also undermined democracy and embarrassed the state with their blatantly partisan overreach. Hopefully, voters will have something to say about it.