Archive for the ‘redistricting’ Tag

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.

Frank Kratovil is going to Washington

This man is going to Congress

This man is going to Congress

The AP has just reported that Democrat Frank Kratovil has narrowly won the race to represent Maryland’s first congressional district.  No call was possible on election night, after which Kratovil lead 160,915 to 160,000 over Republican Andy Harris.  After the absentee ballots, which normally favor Republicans, were counted Kratovil actually increased his lead to about 2000 votes.  There are approximately 4800 provisional ballots to be tabulated and a few more absentee ballots that were postmarked on or before election day may still trickle in, but they are not expected to alter the outcome.

Frank Kratovil, the elected State’s Attorney for Queen Anne’s County, won every county on the Eastern Shore.  Harris, a physician who represents the Baltimore suburbs in the State Senate, won narrowly in Anne Arundel County and racked up big margins in Baltimore County and Harford County.  The first district is, by far, the largest in the state in terms of area; it covers about 29% of the state, which has eight total districts.  Though the non-Shore portions of the district are small in area, they hold about 45% of its population.  Democrats have a very slight advantage in party registration, but the district is a conservative one, represented by a Republican for 18 years.

Maryland's first congressional district (click to enlarge)

Maryland's 1st congressional district (click to enlarge)

Along with the state’s 6th Congressional District, the 1st District was gerrymandered by the legislature to give Democrats a stranglehold on the other 75% of the state’s congressional seats.  Now that a Democrat has the seat, I would predict that the General Assembly will move more registered Democrats into the district when they redraw the boundaries after the 2010 census, though the 2010 election will be held under the current lines.  (Back in 2000 the Democrats who dominate the state legislature moved many Republican-leaning areas from the 2nd District, then held by Republican Bob Ehrlich, into the 1st District.)  Note that this blog is opposed to gerrymandering or drawing district lines for political purposes and believes that districts should be drawn in a non-partisan way by an impartial body composed for that purpose.

Kratovil is a moderate Democrat who has promised to join the Blue Dog coalition of fiscally conservative Democrats.  He will replace outgoing Representative Wayne Gilchrest, a moderate Republican defeated by Harris in a three way primary.  Hopefully he sticks to his guns and helps get the federal budget situation under control; the narrowness of his victory and a desire to serve more than just two years may help keep him from veering left once he takes office.  Godspeed, Frank.