Archive for January 14th, 2009|Daily archive page

Gerrymandering legislative districts

Maryland's 3rd Congressional District, one of the nation's most gerrymandered

Maryland's 3rd Congressional District, one of the most gerrymandered in the United States

Slate magazine has an interesting article about using computer algorithms to draw, or at least analyze, cogressional and legislative districts.  It includes a slide show with 20 of the most gerrymandered districts in the Union, two of which are in Maryland, which has eight districts.

In Maryland, as in most states, the boundaries for Congressional and State Legislative districts are drawn by the state legislature, which makes it very tempting to draw lines favorable to yourself.  This can be especially problematic in a state like Maryland where one party (in this case the Democrats) control a supermajority in the legislature.  (After the 2010 census the Maryland Court of Appeals threw out the map drawn by legislators and substituted their own, it was that badly done.)   Some states have non-partisan boards which have authority to craft district lines, which leads to somewhat better outcomes.  Voters in California very narrowly (49.5% in favor) rejected Proposition 11 this past November which would have set up such a body in that state.

I’m skeptical if computer algorithms are the best way to draw final legislative districts, though they can certainly help generate ideas and be used to analyze plans.  I think the best route to go would be to create an independent commission with Democrats, Republicans, independents, along with Libertarians and Greens where no party has a majority and something more than a simple majority is needed to agree to a final plan.  They could take cognizance of already existing political boundaries, like county and city lines, along with major natural formations that make sense to use, like rivers.  Such an institution wouldn’t be perfect (nothing here can be, I don’t think) but would be much better than the way most states do it now.

Same-sex marriage bill introduced in Maine Legislature

The Maine State House in Augusta, where a battle over same-sex marriage is likely to be fought

The Maine State House in Augusta, where a battle over same-sex marriage is likely to be fought

Dennis Damon, a Democrat who serves in the 35-member Maine Senate, has introduced legislation that would legalize same-sex marriage in that state.  The bill is entitled “An Act to End Discrimination in Civil Marriage and Affirm Religious Freedoms.”  Maine’s governor, Democrat John Baldacci, has opposed gay marriage in the past, but indicates he supports civil unions.  The state already has a form of domestic partnership available.

According to the Washington Blade, an LGBT newspaper, Equality Maine collected over 33,000 signatures to send to the legislature in favor of same-sex marriage.  A newly formed opposing group, the Maine Marriage Alliance, which wants to limit marriage rights, is advocating to make Maine the 31st state which prohibits same-sex marriage in its constitution; currently, marriage is limited only by statute.