Md. congressional districts may be most gerrymandered in nation

Maryland officials constantly tout the state’s top schools and most educated workforce, but it may have a more dubious distinction – the least compact and most gerrymandered congressional districts in the nation.

Redistricting the Nation

Some of Maryland's less compact districts, shown on Avazea's "Redistricting the Nation" website.

Azavea, a geographic information systems firm in Philadelphia, has been calculating the compactness of congressional districts across the country using what is known as the Polsby-Popper ratio. This measures the area of the district to the area of the circle whose circumference is equal to the perimeter of the district.

Out of the 28 states that have finalized congressional maps, the national average is 0.231, according to Daniel McGlone, a GIS analyst with the firm. Maryland’s average is “a mere 0.1225,” he said.

“The state has only one district more compact than the national average,” McGlone said. That is the 5th Congressional District in Southern Maryland, represented by House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer.

The least compact congressional district is Maryland’s 3rd, represented by John Sarbanes, singled out by a federal three-judge panel in an opinion last week. It scored a lowly .0333.

“In form, the original Massachusetts Gerrymander looks tame by comparison, as this is more reminiscent of a broken-winged pterodactyl, lying prostrate across the center of the state,” Appellate Judge Paul Neimeyer wrote in his opinion.

Judge Roger Titus called it “a Rorschach-like eyesore.”

The Azavea scores for the other districts were: CD-2, Dutch Ruppersberger, .0634; CD-6, Roscoe Bartlett, .0764; CD-8, Chris Van Hollen, .0875; CD- 4, Donna Edwards, .0934; CD-1, Andy Harris, .1591; and CD-5, Hoyer, .3049. All but Bartlett and Harris are Democrats.

“Maryland may very well take the prize for the least compact districts in the next congressional election,” McGlone observed.

The Maryland districts score poorly in three other ratios of compactness, with 75% of them finding a place in the nation’s 10 worst, according to Redistricting the Nation.

Maryland’s odd geography, split by the Chesapeake Bay and its major tributaries may contribute to the poor scores. But McGlone used maps from the Maryland Planning Department showing the Bay and the Potomac River split down the middle, and not following every nook and cranny of the bay’s inlets.

Azavea produces the maps as part of its Cicero database that is used by nonprofits and advocacy groups to help their members identify their local legislators. The firm also produced a white paper called “The Gerrymandering Index” in 2006, after the previous round of redistricting.

—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. Yuusha

    Let’s go beyond having congressional districts because I don’t think they will ever be fair, regardless of the party in power. Instead, there should be internet voting with public squares in cities to discuss the issues of the day. The question is how to reach that goal…because the concept of democracy needs a crucial update and redefinition. What we have right now does not look like a democracy because not all voices are represented (in fact, it is very difficult for one person to represent thousands of voices because the only person you will agree with 100% of the time is yourself) and economic interests make it difficult for the public interest to be heard.

  2. Bjoemore

    I hope Nancy Jacobs run against Dutch R.  and beats him big time.  He needs to go.

  3. Bill Bissenas

    Dear Maryland: The Party of Crime (the Democrats) are about to disenfranchise 44 percent of the electorate (the percent that voted for Ehrlich in the 2010 election).  The Dems squeal when conservatives and Republicans seek common sense safeguards such as voted ID to protect the electorate, and yet, they gleefully engage in massive corruption of this sort. When will this end?  The Democrats are not going to stop confiscating your property and taking away your freedoms until you stop them (via the electoral process). Are you prepared to stop them?

  4. Anonymous

    Congratulations to the Dems in Maryland for placing us on yet another Top Ten list. While geography may have a small part in the mapping, one cannot fathom the rational for chopping up counties into several districts other than to dilute the votes of any opposition. Yet somehow these politicians remark about the fairness of dividing communities, house by house in some cases, instead of uniting us to work towards a common goal, the success of ALL Maryland residents.

  5. Whcampbell

    The real question is are the new congressional districts fair, and represent the concept of “one person, one vote”?  Even if they are legally suffcient they steal the opportunity for adequate representation from Maryland’s large and growing minority communties.  When will citizens realize that all politicians (regardless of party) only care for their own interests, and not ours?  If ever there was a time to through the bums out of office this is it.  Baltimore City, and Montgomery, Baltimore and Prince Georges Counties should all have their own U.S. Representative!  That would probably double minority congressional representation from the status quo. 

  6. Anonymous

    It was recently reported that Miller and Busch declared the districts fair with proper representation for all MD citizens.  Sorry boys but that dog just won’t hunt.

  7. P.O.: Political Observationist

    Maryland residents also define themselves by County – more so than residents of other states.  In Massachusetts, people know what town they live in, not what county.  Ask them.  Also – Maryland suburbs radiate out from DC – which is a wedges and corridors design, moving north south.  I think there is a history of creating districts that try to tie counties together, along with deference to corridors, but let’s not forget the deference to incumbents.

    • Bruce Robinson

      Maryland suburbs originally radiated from Baltimore. A second set radiated from D.C. only after air-conditioning made the Capital City habitable year round. Prior to the interstate highway system, the few U.S. Routes, which connected existing communities, population centers followed commerce, which almost always meant rivers, and, later, railroads. The creation of districts has always been an exercise in retaining and growing political power. Consolidate your base and decimate that of your opponent. 

  8. PARTY

    if some other country did what maryland dems have done to control votes and stay in power,
     say egypt and muslim extremist,we would be crying unfair not democratic. 
     Does the root of word ,polotic,polotician…..come from the latin meaning  tic and to suck blood.

  9. Jerry Cave

    Len, Thanks for exercising the journalistic integrity to report real news. The Post & Sun wouldn’t recognize news form propaganda if Goebbels was reading it to them.

  10. John Z Wetmore

    Maybe if we start now on reforming the redistricting process, ten years from now the results will not be as embarrassing.

  11. Aaron

    My God, who’d have thought?

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