The once-every-decade overhaul of Maryland’s Congressional districts is drawing fire from a group of Montgomery and Prince George’s lawmakers who say the plan scatters black, Hispanic and Asian communities across too many districts, weakening the strength of the minority vote at a time when Census data show it should be growing.
Three state delegates and seven members of the Montgomery County Council—flanked by representatives of the NAACP of Maryland and other minority groups Tuesday in Rockville—blasted Gov. Martin O’Malley’s Congressional Redistricting Advisory Committee for going too far in trying to leverage Maryland’s minority growth to make inroads into Republican strongholds.
Led by Montgomery County Council President Valerie Ervin and state Del. Aisha Braveboy of Prince George’s County, the critics said the proposal will make it harder for minorities to win elected office, force Democratic candidates to moderate their views and erode the longtime kinship between Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.
“The maps speak for themselves. ... The facts speak for themselves,” said Del. Ana Sol Gutierrez of Chevy Chase.
Three of Maryland’s eight Congressional districts have a voting-age population made up mostly of minorities. Under the proposal, two of those districts—Democratic bases of Dist. 8 and Dist. 4—would see their minority population slip. For example, adding eastern Frederick and western Carroll counties to Dist. 8 would dwindle its minority population from 50.4 percent to 34 percent.
Meanwhile, District 3 and District 6 would see their minority voting-age population climb to 34 percent and 33.8 percent, respectively.
In doing so, Montgomery’s two most Latino-heavy clusters would diverge—Wheaton staying in District 8 and Gaithersburg shifting to District 6. And the county’s two Asian-majority clusters—North Potomac and Germantown—would break off from the rest of Montgomery to be included in District 6.
The group of lawmakers called for a new redistricting proposal—one that will better represent minority growth reflected in the 2010 Census—in time for next week’s start of the special legislative session in Annapolis. They promised to be supportive of O'Malley's efforts, “but this is a fight worth having,” Ervin said.
An O’Malley spokeswoman did not respond to requests for comment.
The redistricting commission ought to be able to find a way to improve the Democrats’ chances across the eight districts without dispersing kindred communities and denying the demographic changes reflected in the Census, said Councilman Marc Elrich of Takoma Park.
“My good friend in the legislature, who I won’t quote, basically said to me, ‘You can’t expect us to disarm when nobody else is disarming,’” Elrich said. “I would urge the Governor to stick with his first objective, which is to do what everybody is doing—get whatever party is in power whatever advantage you can get locally—but do it with some integrity in the map so that the map makes sense. … This map, particularly bringing down District 3 [from Baltimore], it begins to look like that we had a second objective, which was a political objective for individuals rather than looking at the communities first. The interests of particular individuals and seats, now and in the future, should never be the subject of a redistricting map.”
Maryland’s most recent round of redistricting—under the purview of Gov. Parris Glendening (R) after the 2000 Census—landed in litigation before state courts redrew the lines in 2002.
On Tuesday, critics of this latest redistricting questioned whether the proposal will put Maryland on the same course.
“There’s a growth amongst minorities and then a reduction of representation. That really flies in the face of the Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which seeks to preserve and not dilute minority voting strength,” said Braveboy, an attorney.
They said they had ideas for district lines that would ease their concerns, but did not discuss them. NAACP leaders planned to share those ideas with O’Malley staff today.
“We will not allow disenfranchisement,” said Elbridge James of the NAACP of Maryland. “… We will force on our governor and on the leadership team the issue that African Americans, Latinos and Asian Americans—the benefit of all workers in the state—will not be violated for the benefit of a few.”
A Closer Look
District 6 would dip south out of Frederick County to take up the western and northern half of Montgomery County, including: Poolesville, Germantown, Clarksburg, Montgomery Village, Gaithersburg, Darnestown, North Potomac, Travilah, Derwood, and parts of Potomac and Aspen Hill.
District 8 would cover Rockville, Bethesda, Chevy Chase, Kensington, Cabin John, parts of Potomac, Silver Spring, Layhill, Glenmont. From there, the district would run north along a narrow strip between (but not including) Olney and Montgomery Village, then spread back out to cover Laytonsville, Damascus, eastern Frederick County and western Carroll County.
District 3 would stretch across Maryland from Baltimore to include Olney, Ashton, Sandy Spring, Burtonsville, and parts of Colesville and Cloverly.
District 4 would withdraw from Montgomery County altogether and take on portions of Anne Arundel County.