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Redistricting On The Ballot
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October 19, 2012
Maryland voters have an opportunity in this election to get their hands on a widely criticized piece of the political puzzle -- the one called redistricting. On "Question 5" on the ballot, voters can accept or reject the congressional district map drawn largely for incumbents. Critics say its a process in which the politicians choose the voters -- and not the other way around. WYPR Senior News Analyst Fraser Smith reports.
The shape of one Congressional district in Maryland has been described as a broken winged pterodactyl. Also, as a barking dog. Or as history labeled it, a gerrymander. The definition: an electoral map drawn to achieve certain political purposes.
A Maryland state delegate, Neil Parrott of Hagerstown, acted on the grumbling. Via the Internet, he gathered enough signatures to get the map on the year’s General Election ballot.
He gets a bit heated on the subject.
Del. Neil Parrott
The white elitist liberals who are in office love this map. It protects them. They will never lose with these boundaries. They know it. That’s why they pushed for the map we have now.
Without subscribing to his rhetoric, Todd Eberly, a political science professor at St. Mary’s College, agrees with Parrot’s criticism. He hopes voters will take this opportunity to push back.
There is nothing more important in a democracy than having the right to choose who represents you. Unfortunately, we have a situation where our representatives are choosing us. Voters in Maryland have a real chance to send a message that they’re tired of both parties gaming the system like that.
The reality is unmistakable, he says.
No one could look at the map and argue that anything but pure politics was behind the drawing.
He and Delegate Parrott refer to the process under which congressional district lines are re-drawn to re-balance population. The size of the districts has to approximate the court-ordered one person-one vote ruling of 1964. Governors and incumbent members of congress are intimately involved in this process. The district they are after is one that gives them the greatest likelihood of re-election. Computers allow intricate crafting of districts with enough Democratic or Republican voters (as the case may be) to accomplish the purpose.
Yes indeed says former secretary of state, John Willis. He’s a Democrat and long-time student of voting in Maryland. Politics are inherently – and properly – involved in map drawing, he says.
What you’re looking at is whether we’ve satisfied Constitutional principles and if we have it doesn’t matter whether the shape is-- a square, a circle, a rectangle or a pterodactyl – it doesn’t matter as long as the other Constitutional requirements are satisfied.
Willis says the line drawing in Maryland is complicated by various things: geography, court decisions requiring minority districts where possible and population shifts. These shifts are pushing districts in Maryland to the west. Sometimes odd shapes result.
Just the way it is, he says.
The theory is that line drawing is part of the political process. And people with the authority have the ability to do that. The Supreme Court has authorized that.
Finally, even if the voters decide to reject the map in November, it will go back to the people who drew it in the first place – the assembly and the governor and members of congress. That too is part of the process. Willis says.
Todd Eberly, the St. Mary’s political scientist, says the referendum exercise is still valuable.
I would like to think that if the voters did reject it maybe, just maybe the folks in Annapolis would be a little less willing to just sort of push something like this through and hope the voters don’t notice.
They’ve noticed, of course. The question is what will they be able to do about it.
I’m Fraser Smith reporting for 88.1 WYPR.
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