Single-Member Districts Embedded in Executive Order

A necessary redistricting reform may finally come to fruition

Lost in much of the mishigas of the national news, Governor Larry Hogan had a very important press conference on Tuesday.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said Tuesday he will launch “a sustained effort” to push for a less-partisan process of redrawing political districts, an effort he has failed to get through the General Assembly for the past six years.

The Republican governor has made redistricting an issue since his first campaign as governor in 2014, and repeatedly introduced legislation that would set up a bipartisan process to draw boundaries for state legislators and members of Congress.

Redistricting reform has been one of my pet issues for a very long time. I testified before both Governor O’Malley’s 2011 Redistricting Advisory Committee and Governor Hogan’s 2015 Redistricting Reform Commission. It is the most important electoral reform issue in our state. And Governor Hogan is providing us the most comprehensive, most equitable, and the fairest redistricting committee ever assembled in our state to create these districts.

The key aspects of the Governor’s Executive Order on this include:

  • A nine-member panel comprising of three Democrats, three Republicans, and three independents; none of whom can be party apparatchiks or candidates for office;

  • Ensure the plans respect natural boundaries and create districts that are compact in shape;

  • Ensure that the creation of the districts does not account for party affiliation or the residence of any individual, particularly an incumbent or a potential candidate for office.

These of course are very big deals indeed. Remember some of the crimes against redistricting that Democrats have given us in the past. Like Parris Glendenning drawing a district specifically to target State Senator Norman Stone that took six precincts in Dundalk and placed them in District 31 in northern Anne Arundel County (that was mercifully thrown out in court). Or drawing a Congressional district specifically for then State Senator Rob Garagiola (one that he never won, incidentally). Or forcing this abomination on us:

But the most important thing in the Executive Order was not mentioned at all during the press conference.

Regarding legislative districts, the Order says:

To the extent possible and consistent with the Commission’s other duties and responsibilities, subdivided onto single-member districts

This would be the biggest revolution to ever hit the Maryland General Assembly. As I wrote in a 2018 column in The Capital:

As far back as 1967, Maryland leaders saw the need for single-member districts in the House of Delegates. While single-member districts were included in the draft constitution adopted by the Constitutional Convention, the General Assembly did not include it as part of the amendments it adopted following a Supreme Court case that forced it to update Maryland’s apportionment.

In 1972, the legislature amended the current constitution to include the language that currently governs membership and the composition of legislative districts. There are 47 separate districts, each electing one senator and three delegates. Each district can be subdivided into subdistricts of one, two or three delegates.

Over the last 45 years, House subdistricts have been created for political purposes more often than out of necessity….

Single-member districts would make the General Assembly more representative of the people of Maryland. There would be a greater representation of religious, ethnic and political viewpoints in the House of Delegates.

Single-member districts have been needed for some time. I’m glad to see Governor Hogan direct the Commission to include them in their work.