BALTIMORE – Two dozen athletic activists began a three-day, 225-mile relay on Saturday to mount pressure on state power brokers to stop stacking the deck in the election of members of the U.S. Congress and the Maryland state house.
Traveling by bike, motor boat, kayak and foot, they are to arrive in Annapolis on Sunday with a petition calling for an end to gerrymandering, the closed-door drawing of congressional and state legislative districts to favor one party over another.
Dubbed the “Gerrymander Meander,” participants - who include Democrats and Republicans, a working mom and a retired Navy officer, a dentist and a school teacher, a civil engineer and a grad student - will weave through Maryland’s 3rd Congressional District, one of the most gerrymandered in the nation.
Kicked off with a news conference in Baltimore’s Roosevelt Park, the event is sponsored by Common Cause Maryland, League of Women Voters of Maryland and the National Council of Jewish Women Annapolis Section, which together have a combined membership of more than 5,200 Marylanders.
“Gerrymandering is a rigged system that makes a mockery of democracy and often gives voters little more than a gridlocked Washington,” said Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, the executive director of Maryland Common Cause who is to ride and bike a total of 38 miles.
“This is the beginning, not the end, of our push for reform,” said Susan Cochran, President of the League of Women Voters. “In January, when the state legislature convenes for the 2015 session, we will present it an online petition demanding it replace gerrymandering with a ‘fair and open’ drawing of district lines.”
“Maryland is among the most progressive states in the country in terms of extending gay rights, cracking down on gun control and abolishing the death sentence, yet it is among the most gerrymandered,” said Carol Ann Hecht, representing the National Council of Jewish Women Annapolis Section. “We say enough. We call for real district reform.”
Polls show broad bipartisan opposition to gerrymandering, a system that dates back to 1812 and is practiced nationwide. The state party in power draws district lines every ten years after the census, putting a majority of its voters in as many districts as possible.
“We say Democrats and Republicans must work together on bipartisan reform for the good of voters,” said Bevan-Dangel. “Voters should choose their elected officials. Elected officials should not choose their voters.”
The first phase of the relay, 206 miles, is go nonstop for 36 hours, ending at 10 p.m. on Saturday at Cantler’s Riverside Inn in Annapolis. The relay will resume at 10 a.m. on Sunday for final 19 miles to and around the state capitol where a rally is set for 1:45 p.m.
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Tame the Gerrymander is a joint effort led by Common Cause Maryland, the League of Women Voters of Maryland, and the National Council of Jewish Women Annapolis Section.
The Tame the Gerrymander Coalition can be followed on Facebook (Tame the Gerrymander) or Twitter (@TameGerrymander).
Information is also available at: www.commoncause.org/states/maryland/issues/voting-and-elections/tame-the-gerrymander/
Jennifer Bevan-Dangel, 410-303-7954 (cell), email@example.com
Executive Director, Common Cause MD
Ralph Watkins, 301-787-7170, firstname.lastname@example.org
Board Member, League of Women Voters of Maryland
Carol Ann Hecht, 410-280-3746, email@example.com
Annapolis Section of the National Council of Jewish Women
Susan Cochran, 410-269-0232, firstname.lastname@example.org
President, League of Women Voters of Maryland
Office: Common Cause Maryland