ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Maryland's congressional redistricting process in 2011 reflected a common theme in a long-criticized process: There isn't much preventing a party with strong control of state government from drawing the state's congressional map to its benefit.
In heavily Democratic Maryland, some state lawmakers and government watchdog groups are pushing to make the process more balanced. Sen. Allan Kittleman, R-Howard, is proposing a constitutional amendment to have the state's highest court nominate a pool of 30 candidates, with 10 from the majority party, 10 from the minority party and 10 that are not registered with either. A seven-member panel would be chosen from that pool, with one each by the presiding officers of the Legislature and one each from the minority leaders. Three others would be chosen by those four.
"So, the whole idea is to try to make it as bipartisan as possible, and my goal is to let the citizens of Maryland decide if this is what they would like to do," Kittleman said late last month at a hearing on the proposed constitutional amendment that would require voter approval.
Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, the executive director of Common Cause Maryland, said models in other states that have worked to create greater political balance in the process could be considered as well.
"Maryland has one of the most governor-controlled processes out there, and if you look across the nation a lot of the early-adopted reforms created these bipartisan commissions at least to give both parties equal say and get it out of that kind of direct-controlling situation," Bevan-Dangel said.
Del. Heather Mizeur, who is running in the Democratic primary for governor, also is sponsoring a measure. It would create an independent, nonpartisan commission to redraw the lines of congressional and state legislative districts.
"Gerrymandering places party politics over fair representation and disenfranchises voters," Mizeur said in a statement calling attention to her bill on Wednesday. "It's time to end it once and for all."
No action has been taken on either measure. The state's legislative session ends April 7.
Maryland's 2011 redistricting process added a big chunk of Democrat-heavy Montgomery County in the suburbs of the nation's capital to what had been a Republican stronghold in western Maryland. With a Democratic governor and Democrats holding strong majorities in the Legislature, there wasn't much to get in the way of moving about 300,000 Montgomery County voters into the western Maryland district.
Democratic supporters of the map cited demographic changes along the Interstate 270 corridor. Opponents, however, contended the state's strong Democratic majority in Annapolis targeted 10-term Republican Roscoe Bartlett in hopes of drawing him out of office. In the end, political newcomer John Delaney defeated Bartlett in 2012 with 59 percent of the vote to 38 percent. Democrats increased their majority to 7-1 in the state's delegation in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The proposed map ran into resistance, though.
Some black Democratic lawmakers argued that the map diluted minority voting strength, and Republicans joined them to contend that demographic changes justified a third majority-minority congressional district in the state, instead of two. Opponents succeeded in petitioning legislation with the new map lines to the ballot.
The map was approved at the polls in November 2012, with 64 percent of voters for it and 36 percent against it in a state where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by a 2-1 margin.
Opponents then went to court. In December 2011, a three-judge panel dismissed the lawsuit, ruling that nine plaintiffs did not satisfy the burden of proof in alleging the map discriminated against African-Americans by failing to create a third majority-black congressional district in the state. The judges wrote their decision was not a complete endorsement of the map, because the shapes of several districts are "unusually odd," and many obvious communities of interest are divided.