Percentage of voting population doesn’t guarantee seats in legislature

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The African-American witnesses at Thursday’s hearing on the proposed legislative redistricting map consistently made the case that there should have been 14 predominately black Senate districts out of 47, not the 12 proposed.

But the decision by a three-judge federal court the next day on the congressional districts maps undermined some of these arguments based on the percentage of the population.

Senate chamber

The Senate chamber

Appellate Judge Paul Niemeyer wrote that “the plaintiffs have not shown that the state moved African-American voters from one district to another because they were African-American and not simply because they were Democrats. … Distinguishing racial from political motivations is all the more important in a state like Maryland, where the vast majority of African-American voters are registered Democrats.”

Ultimately, the court concluded that the two majority minority congressional districts – 25% of Maryland’s eight seats – “is in proportion to African-Americans’ share of the total voting-age population – 28%.”

Using the same arguments, Republicans could contend that they are entitled to 35% to 45% of the seats in the Senate because that’s the percentage of the vote statewide GOP candidates routinely receive. (Using party registration figures underestimates the number of people who consistently vote Republican.)

That would give Republicans 16 or more seats in the Senate, not the 12 they currently hold. Under the new map, Republicans will be lucky to hold onto those dozen seats.

The gerrymandering in the legislative map is much more deft than the blatant kind the federal judges found in the congressional map, but said they could do little about.

Maryland is the only state in the country that elects any legislators by three-member districts. In the latest plan, voters in 22 districts would elect three delegates at large. But that number is down from 32 three-member districts in the current legislature.

By creating 20 more one- and two-member districts, Democratic map drawers have been able to gerrymander in more subtle ways, drawing two-member districts that include the more heavily Democratic cities of Frederick and Annapolis, for instance. Or drawing a Democratic-leaning single-member district in Anne Arundel County for Del. Don Dwyer. In Howard County, a single-member district was carved out of District 9 to give a Democrat a shot to win a seat in Republican Sen. Allan Kittleman’s district, while Del. Liz Bobo’s single-member district in liberal West Columbia was eliminated to strengthen the overall Democratic vote in District 12.

This technique allows the map-drawers to honor Maryland constitutional rules that districts be compact, contiguous and equal in population, observing geographic and jurisdictional lines for the senate districts, while carving out subdistricts for partisan purposes.

As pointed out it in an initial analysis, the map drawers also use the permitted population variations of plus or minus 5% to boost the number of generally Democratic districts with populations lower than the ideal and restrict Republican districts with more people than the ideal.

A map developed by Seth Wilson shows the districts with over counts and undercounts. The districts shown in black or dark gray have less than the ideal population, while the districts shown in white have equal or higher than the ideal population. Click on the district to show the district number and population count.

—Len Lazarick

About The Author

Len Lazarick

Len Lazarick was the founding editor and publisher of and is currently the president of its nonprofit corporation and chairman of its board He was formerly the State House bureau chief of the daily Baltimore Examiner from its start in April 2006 to its demise in February 2009. He was a copy editor on the national desk of the Washington Post for eight years before that, and has spent decades covering Maryland politics and government.

1 Comment

  1. Anonymous

    The bottom line in this legislative redistricting is disenfranchisement of voters if you are not of the correct voting class. Legislators are only interested in getting re-elected & retaining power. What is good for ALL the people in Maryland from the mountains to the seashore, no matter what color or party affiliation, has no bearing in the over reaching decisions of party bosses. So much for living in the Free State!

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