Maryland’s state redistricting process for state legislative lines begins with the governor submitting a proposed plan at the start of the legislative session, which the state legislature can adopt, change, or ignore. If the state legislature does not pass new redistricting lines within 45 days, the governor’s state legislative maps are enacted. Congressional maps, on the other hand, are drawn by the state legislature as a typical state statute through the standard legislative process and are subject to the governor’s veto.
In the 2021 cycle, the governor created an advisory commission to assist with drawing congressional and state legislative lines that would be submitted to the state legislature. The General Assembly rejected the governor’s maps and passed separate maps that were upheld by state courts. The legislature also proposed congressional districts that were vetoed by the governor. Despite overriding the gubernatorial veto, state courts rejected the maps as unconstitutional partisan gerrymanders. New maps were quickly passed by the General Assembly and signed into law by the governor, which ended the challenge to the congressional maps.
Community of Interest Story
Joanne Antoine, Executive Director of Common Cause Maryland, shared this story about the redistricting process that took place this cycle:
“During the General Assembly’s special session there was a floor debate in the Senate about the congressional map proposal. I had never seen a bill move so quickly. It went from a committee hearing and vote to third reader and passage on the floor within just a few hours. The map moved so quickly that no amendments were made in committee even with a significant amount of public input that day.
“While the map was on their reader in the Senate, I remember a Senator quoting our testimony in the midst of their floor debate. It caught me by surprise but was appropriate because it summed up the redistricting process so well. ‘People are disengaged because they know their feedback will receive very little consideration… Common Cause MD is taking no position because the outcome is preordained.’ Our testimony, while clearly in opposition, made the impact that we intended. As the Senator stated during his comment, the maps passed were drawn ‘independent of the people’s comments.’”
Overall State Grade: C
Partisan gerrymandering: Both sets of maps passed by the Democratically controlled state legislature were challenged in state courts. While the state legislative maps passed constitutional muster and were allowed to take effect, the congressional maps that passed through the state legislature on party lines and survived a gubernatorial veto were found to violate the state’s constitution due to impermissible partisan gerrymandering by the Democratic legislature. This also resulted in a change in the election calendar and moving back the primary to accommodate a redrawing of the congressional maps that would be acceptable to the state legislature and to the governor.
Commission without mandate: The advisory commission created by the governor lacked power over the legislature. It consisted of nine members from both major parties and those registered with neither from an open pool of public applications. Commissioners could not be candidates or employees of state or federal elected leaders, work for political parties, or be lobbyists. Additionally, commissioners could not consider incumbents’ addresses nor voting patterns. However, the governor’s commission was only advisory, and citizen commissioners had no mandate to adopt maps, nor were the maps they proposed required to be considered by the legislature. Many of the commissioners had never engaged in the redistricting process before. The adopted maps came from the state legislature. Advocates noted that the governor’s commission managed to draw more majority-minority districts than the legislature did.
Transparency and engagement: Advocates noted that while there were marked improvements in transparency and engagement in the legislative redistricting process over the 2011 redistricting cycle, the state legislature still drew lines largely behind closed doors, whereas the governor’s advisory commission had public deliberations as they drew maps. Therefore, although both the state legislature and the governor’s commission took public input across the state, the map-drawing by the state legislature that was ultimately adopted was not done publicly. The state legislature also gave very short notice to the public about when their hearings were taking place, provided minimal public education and information dissemination, and provided the public with no justification as to how their maps were drawn and no details on who worked with them to draw their maps.
- There was improvement in receiving public input and draft maps: Both the governor’s advisory commission and the state legislature took public input and conducted hearings that reached different parts of the state. While the formation of the governor’s advisory commission was new in this redistricting cycle and explicitly worked to receive public input, advocates noted that the state legislature’s redistricting process was far more transparent than in the past cycles. The state legislature held regional hearings to take public testimony and released interactive draft maps, something that they did not do in the past.
- Local redistricting processes need attention: A key lesson learned by advocates was that the redistricting advocacy community in Maryland primarily paid attention to the legislative and congressional redistricting processes. While there was some work done at the local level, including the formation and selection of redistricting commissions at the county level, advocates noted that much of the monitoring of these processes was overlooked, and will require more support in future redistricting cycles.
- Stronger community engagement and coalition-building is still needed: Advocates noted that the redistricting ecosystem in the state should be strengthened for future cycles. The coalition should expand not only to enfranchise more residents to participate in the mapmaking process, but also to ensure that a more diverse coalition of organizations and communities can work together on defining communities of interest, calling for transparency, and potentially submitting community-drawn maps to the state legislature for consideration.
- Public education on redistricting must be expanded: This cycle, there was limited public education on the redistricting process from the state legislature, the entity that ultimately drew all the lines. Information about hearings needs to be disseminated to communities on the ground and more time needs to be provided for people to sign up to participate. More work needs to be done to expand the reach of such education.
- Maryland should move to an independent redistricting commission: The advisory commission formed by the governor was modeled after an independent redistricting commission bill that redistricting advocates in Maryland have been championing for years. A key recommendation is to pass such legislation so that in future cycles, the commission will not simply be advisory but have a mandate to adopt final maps. There is also support for the passage for federal standards for map-drawing.