Interim News
Delegate Trent Kittleman - District 9A
Special Session
December 6 - 10, 2021
Redistricting: the Inside Scoop
  • The politics of gerrymandering
  • When did we go wrong
  • Are you sure gerrymandering is at fault?
  • What happened last week in the Special Session
  • Did the Legislature Approve this map?
  • So what DID happen?
  • How is this map gerrymandered?
  • What's wrong with one-party rule?
  • Do we have any Recourse?
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The politics of gerrymandering
The U.S. Constitution requires a census to be conducted every 10 years. Shortly after states get the results of that census, they use the new population numbers to redraw legislative and congressional districts to guarantee that everyone has equal representation. States have adopted various criteria to guide them in drawing the districts. The traditional criteria many states use are as follows:
  • Compactness: Having the minimum distance between all the parts of a constituency (a circle, square, or a hexagon is the most compact district).
  • Contiguity: All parts of a district must be connected at some point with the rest of the district.
  • Preservation of counties and other political subdivisions: This refers to not crossing county, city, or town, boundaries when drawing districts.
  • Preservation of communities of interest: Geographical areas, such as neighborhoods of a city or regions of a state, where the residents have common political interests that do not necessarily coincide with the boundaries of a political subdivision, such as a city or county.
  • Preservation of cores of prior districts: This refers to maintaining districts as previously drawn, to the extent possible. This leads to continuity of representation.
Some states have taken the pledge to eliminate politics from the 10-year process by adopting the following criteria:
  • Prohibition on favoring or disfavoring an incumbent, candidate or party. The prohibition in a given state may be broader, covering any person or group, or it may be limited to intentionally or unduly favoring a person or group. Details on these prohibitions are included in the state descriptions below. 
  • Prohibition on using partisan data: Line drawers, whether they be commissioners (California and Montana), nonpartisan staff (Iowa), or legislators (Nebraska), are prohibited from using incumbent residences, election results, party registration, or other socio-economic data as an input when redrawing districts. 
  • Competitiveness: Districts having relatively even partisan balance, making competition between the two major parties more intense. This criterion typically seeks to avoid the creation of “safe” districts for a particular party. For instance, the Arizona constitution (cited below) states that “to the extent practicable, competitive districts should be favored where to do so would create no significant detriment to the other goals.” 
Maryland professes to use the traditional criteria in drawing the maps, but is not legally bound to do so. And since 2002, the Democratic supermajority has used the redistricting process to gradually eliminate Republicans.

This is no secret.

"The lawsuit, filed in 2013 by a former federal employee, is shedding new light on the machinations that took place behind the scenes as Democrats sought to oust Republican Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett from the seat he had held for nearly two decades. 'That was my hope,' O'Malley told attorneys in a deposition. 'It was also my intent to create … a district where the people would be more likely to elect a Democrat than a Republican.'"
When did we go wrong?
1983 - 1992
The maps drawn after the 1970 and 1980 censuses made an effort to follow traditional criteria. The eight districts were relatively compact and, in general, counties were kept together.
1993 - 2002

Even after the 1990 census, partisanship remained in check -- and the State's Congressional delegation remained bi-partisan with:

  • 4 Democrat Representatives
  • 4 Republican Representatives
2003 - 2013
It was in 2002 that the supermajority began to flex its muscles. Suddenly, criteria such as compactness, contiguousness (all parts of a district being connected at some point with the rest of the district), and community integrity were tossed out the window. The results of this gerrymandering?

  • 6 Democrat Representatives
  • 2 Republican Representatives
2013 - Today
Having succeeded at eliminating two Republicans in 2002, the supermajority took aim at one of the two remaining Republicans Districts.

Western Maryland has been and continues to be one of the more conservative areas of our State and has been represented by Republicans throughout history.

However, by trading its Carroll and Frederick county voters for a similar number of Montgomery county voters, the Supermajority managed to tip the scales just enough to elect their seventh Democrat, resulting in the lopsided representation we have today:

  • 7 Democrat Representatives
  • 1 Republican Representative
bbAre you sure "gerrymandering" is at fault? Rather than a change in the percent of Republicans v. Democrats?
Right after the 1990 census and before the 2000 census:
  • Democrats: 1,547,117 = 57% of registered voters
  • Republicans: 805,894 = 30% of registered voters
  • Unaffiliated: 356,491 = 13% of registered voters
TOTAL: 2,709,502

Right after the 2000 census and before the 2010 census:
  • Democrats: 1,957,279 = 57% of registered voters
  • Republicans: 925,614 = 27% of registered voters
  • Unaffiliated: 528,274 = 16% of registered voters
TOTAL: 3,411,167

Right after the 2010 census and before the 2020 Census:
  • Democrats: 2,262,797 = 56% of registered voters
  • Republicans: 1,015,812= 25% of registered voters
  • Unaffiliated: 766,788 = 19% of registered voters
TOTAL: 4,045,397  
What happened last week in the
Special Session
Once the COVID-delayed 2020 census was provided to the State, the Governor did what he promised to do: he created an independent Citizens Redistricting Commission, based on the legislation he initially introduced in 2017, and reintroduced (unsuccessfully) in subsequent years. For a summary of this bill go to my 2017 Newsletter, Special Edition.

The work of the Citizens Commission was open, transparent, and inclusive. It had a written set of criteria it would use in drawing the lines, and it honored those criteria. The commission held numerous hearings, accepted testimony, and encouraged Marylanders to submit their own ideas for the map. As a result The Commission received more than 80 map submissions from the public.

More than 3,611 citizens attended at least one virtual meetings, the Commission’s social media posts resulted in more than 45,138 impressions on Twitter and more than 80,818 views on Facebook, and meeting notifications went out to more than 46,000 email contacts, producing the map below.
This map earned a grade of "A" from the Princeton Gerrymander Project.
Did the Legislature Approve this map?
If campaign promises were to be believed, every Howard County member of the House strongly supported a "fair and independent" redistricting process, according to their answers in the League of Women Voters Guide in 2018. (See ScottBlog for a complete discussion of the issue.)

My District 9 is represented by a Democrat Senator and a Democrat Delegate, along with Republican Delegates Reid Novotny and myself. Here is how the Democrats answered the LWV question on "Redistricting."

District 9: Senator Katie Fry Hester (D) wrote:
  • I support the establishment of an independent redistricting commission that will be responsible for drawing congressional and legislative district lines after each census." 

District 9-B: Delegate Courtney Watson (D) wrote:
  • Increased polarization has occurred in part due to gerrymandering and the lack of swing (balanced) districts. As a County Council Member, I represented the only swing district in Howard County and learned that safe districts for elected officials act as a disincentive to working with both sides. I support changing the partisan process of drawing district lines to one that is truly nonpartisan.”
Similar language appeared in the answers of every other Democrat legislator from Howard County (see below)
Delegate Eric Ebersole (D): "I believe we need more compact and fairly drawn districts. One of the great dangers of unfairly drawn districts is that voters feel powerless and disenfranchised. Voting may be suppressed."
Delegate Vanessa Atterberry (D): "I support an independent body to draw legislative and congressional district maps after each census.” 
Delegate Jessica Feldmark (D): "It is the job of the voters to elect their representatives, not the job of the elected representatives to select their voters. I support reforming the redistricting process. . ."
Senator Clarence K. Lam (D): “Redistricting: I am concerned about the level of partisanship involved in the drawing of district maps, and that is why I support legislation that creates a nonpartisan, independent body to oversee redistricting in the state."
Delegate Terri Hill (D): “Redistricting: I’ve introduced legislation to create a non-partisan, independent body to draw legislative maps. . ."
Delegate Jen Terrasa (D): "The process of drawing district maps is incredibly complex and should be conducted by a truly non-partisan body."
(Senator Guy Guzzone did not provide a response)
So, what DID happen?
It will probably not surprise you to learn that, despite their promised good intentions, not one of the Democrat legislators in the House voted for the non-partisan Citizens Redistricting map.

No, what happened is that the Supermajority Leadership appointed its own committee to produce a map. This Committee provided no criteria, had fewer than a handful of citizens at several of their "hearings," did not provide any draft maps for citizens comments, and ultimately produced the map shown below, that they passed on a party-line vote.
This map earned a grade of "F "from the Princeton Gerrymander Project
How is this map gerrymandered?
District 1: The last Republican. The First District, shown in the darkest purple on the Citizens Independent map above, includes all of the more conservative eastern shore counties along with Cecil, Harford, and the northern part of Baltimore County. Historically, this district has been gerrymandered to stuff in as many Republican voters as possible, leaving enough Democrats to win every other district.
This year, however, the map passed by the Supermajority last week took aim at that one Republican holdout. As shown (in blue) on the map directly above, the Supermajority removed Harford County and northern Baltimore County voters from this district and replaced them with the more urban and liberal voters in Anne Arundel county, thus making this district capable of electing a Democrat -- which would make the Congressional roster of Maryland Democrats, 8 - 0.

While most of the partisan maps in recent years ignore the traditional criteria of compactness and the preservation of counties and communities, this map goes even further. Heretofore, regardless of the twisted shape of districts, all parts of the district were connected. Not so this year. In order to maximize Democrat chances in district 1, the Anne Arundel part of the new district must jump the Chesapeake Bay and is not connected to any other part of the district.

If we continue in this direction, eventually, districts will be created not by geography, but by individual selection of voters to populate the districts.
What's wrong with one-party rule?
Aren't there some conservative Democrats?
Yes, there are conservative Democrats who will tell us how much they agree with us and how they wish they could vote their conscience. The problem is the supermajority Leadership does not allow anyone or anything to interfere with the swift passage of every single bill they bring out of committee and onto the floor, as written. That means no amendments will be accepted, regardless of their merit.

Occasionally, a handful of Democrats will vote against such a bill -- but never if their votes would change the outcome. In the 8 years I've been in the legislature, with the1,000's of votes we take every year, I have yet to see any bill killed on the floor.

No--wait! I take that back. There was one bill. In the third year of our first term, Republican Delegate, Deb Rey, got a very unobtrusive gun bill passed out of the Judiciary Committee. When it came up for a vote on the floor, the supermajority defeated that one bill.
Do we have any Recourse?
Not in Federal Court
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the Maryland case of Lamone v. Bensiak, that federal courts have no jurisdiction to decide questions of gerrymandering based on partisan political claims.

In 2018-2019, Maryland voters filed a case known as Lamone v. Benisek with the Federal District Court in Maryland challenging partisan gerrymandering. At the center of the case was Maryland's 6th district which historically favored Republicans and which was redrawn in 2011 to shift the political majority to become Democrat by diluting the Republican vote. Affected voters filed suit, stating that the redistricting violated their right of representation under Article One, Section Two of the U.S. Constitution and freedom of association of the First Amendment.
The District Court ruled in the plaintiffs' favor that the revised boundaries of the 6th district were unconstitutional, and required the state to redraw its district maps in a more neutral manner by March 7, 2019, with the new maps to be approved by the court; otherwise, the court would assign an independent three-member commission to oversee the redistricting, ensuring that new maps would be available prior to the 2020 election. Governor Larry Hogan stated his intent to let the ruling stand and engage with the state's general assembly to pursue redistricting, but attorney general Brian Frosh, a Democrat, with the support of the legislature appealed the District Court ruling to the United States Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court in a 5–4 vote, determined that the Court has no jurisdiction over the political question claims of partisan gerrymandering . . . even when the map is as absurd as ours.
The shape of Maryland's Third District has been widely described as a "broken-wing pterodactyl." In our new map, the shape of District 3 has changed, and is no longer the 'broken-wing pterodactyl.' It is now referred to as the Tyrannosaurus Rex.
What About State Court?
Unlike the federal constitution, many state constitutions, including Maryland's, have provisions that explicitly address fairness in the administration of elections.
  • 30 states have some form of constitutional requirement that elections be “free.”
  • 18 of these states further require that elections be either “equal” or “open” in addition to being free.
  • 15 state constitutions also include language that explicitly protects a citizen’s right to vote from improper influence or interference by “civil or military” powers.
Maryland's Declaration of Rights, Article 7 reads:
Several state courts have already seen successful challenges to partisan gerrymandering under their state constitutions' "Free Elections Clauses." In both Pennsylvania and North Carolina, the courts relied both on the states' "free elections" clauses, as well as on the high degree of gerrymandering. Indeed, a district in the Pennsylvania map earned the name, the “Goofy kicking Donald Duck district” based on its irregular boundaries.

The NC constitutional language is very close to Maryland's; it's "free Elections" clause includes only the provision that “[a]ll elections shall be free,” without any further requirement that they be "equal," or "open." This is precisely what Maryland's Constitutional Declaration of Rights provides.

In striking down the challenged map, the NC Court concluded that the "free elections" clause means "that elections must be conducted freely and honestly to ascertain, fairly and truthfully, the will of the people." Turning to the question of whether an extreme partisan gerrymander would violate the clause, the court determined that since partisan gerrymandering "operates through vote dilution," or "the devaluation of one citizen's vote as compared to others," it closed off the possibility of free elections by stopping the will of the people from being fairly and truthfully ascertained," and reflected, instead, "the will of the map drawers."

Let's hope Maryland's highest court follows the lead of North Carolina.
Authorized, Friends of Trent Kittleman, William Oliver, Treasurer