With new legislative district maps approved by Maryland lawmakers in January, Washington County will see some changes in certain districts — leaving some county representatives and residents discontent.
Every 10 years, legislative leaders must redraw legislative and congressional maps to reflect population shifts according to the U.S. Census. And in the past few efforts, Maryland officials have been criticized for “gerrymandering,” a process that manipulates boundaries of an electoral district to favor one political party.
When Larry Hogan, a Republican, ran for governor in 2014, he wanted to reform the redistricting process to make it less political. Even former Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, showed support for ending “gerrymandered congressional districts” in 2017, despite acknowledging in court that his party had gerrymandered districts in the past.
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Maryland’s House Republican Caucus said in a news release that legal challenges “are likely” for the newly approved legislative maps, which dictate state House and Senate districts. The approved congressional maps, which cover seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, have already seen litigation by Fair Maps Maryland and Del. Neil Parrott, R-Washington, who is running for Congress in Maryland’s 6th District.
For Washington County, the biggest change comes from District 2A, currently represented by Parrott and the county delegation chairman, Del. Bill Wivell, R-Washington.
As it stands with the new legislative maps, 2A would bleed into northern Frederick County — including areas such as Thurmont, Sabillasville and Emmitsburg.
Wivell told The Herald-Mail the maps are pushing east because of population changes.
“It does make it a little more difficult to represent constituents, because now (delegates) are representing two separate counties versus one,” Wivell said. “So you have two county councils or (boards of) commissioners to keep an eye on.”
He said he believed the map was fair and that it still keeps the area intact.
Some would disagree.
The current district border in 2A stretches along the Mason-Dixon Line from the Frederick County line to west of Hagerstown, but doesn’t include the city of Hagerstown. The western boundary follows parts the Conococheague Creek and Md. 63, while generally excluding the Williamsport area. In the south, it follows the Potomac River from south of Williamsport to the Frederick County line.
Though not unique in Maryland, the district has two delegates.
Seth Wilson, chairman of the Washington County Republican Central Committee, told The Herald-Mail he did not understand the justification for the county having two members representing one large district to begin with — even more so now with the new legislative maps.
“It’s my opinion that there’s no way to justify the idea that we need to have a two-member district that has to cross county lines, when you can could draw one district that was entirely in the county and another district that split the county lines,” Wilson said.
Wilson said the new legislative map violates everyone’s civil rights.
“It’s taking the voting franchise away from the people in Washington County and, in part, Frederick County,” Wilson said.
House Republican members offered two amendments during the final debate for finalizing the legislative maps — one that would fall in line with what Wilson wanted.
The amendment would have replaced the map with a single-member district map created by the Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission, according to the news release by the House Republican Caucus.
“This single-member district map ensures the principle of one person, one vote,” Del. Susan Krebs, R-Carroll, said. “While this map may not be perfect for us as incumbent legislators, it does what is best for our citizens and it does what is best for democracy.”
Parrott told The Herald-Mail that having a multi-member district, which in some counties can have up to three delegates, makes it difficult for a candidate to win if the majority of the members are from one political party.
“All three delegates run a very large area of people to cover together,” Parrott said. “It’s hard for anyone who’s not part of that party to break-in.”
Those who oppose the new map think “the maps were gerrymandered 10 years ago, and (legislative leaders) are just perpetuating what was done,” Wivell said.
The new congressional district maps were challenged in December by Fair Maps Maryland and Parrott. Now, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has filed a motion to intervene.
The motion was filed by attorney Marc E. Elias of the Elias Law Group on behalf of the DCCC.
Fair Maps Maryland issued a news release last week in opposition to motion.
“The last thing Marylanders want is partisan political operatives from Washington, D.C. interfering with their state elections,” said Doug Mayer, spokesman of Fair Maps Maryland. “Obvious political actors like Marc Elias and his DCCC benefactors only care about power and they will stop at nothing to get more of it, including masquerading as ‘defenders of democracy.'”
The new congressional maps have seen criticism from Hogan and state Republicans, who said the maps were a form of gerrymandering. Hogan had created the Maryland Citizens Redistricting Commission, a nine-member committee of Republicans, Democrats and unaffiliated voters to draw nonpartisan maps.
The commission issued maps of its own in November, but Democratic legislative leaders used maps drawn by a joint committee of their choosing.
“I think there were definitely some games played with the congressional maps,” Wivell said.
Where is the finish line?
People would like to see a finality to the process, according to Wivell.
“Especially for folks that are running for public office,” Wivell added. “That’s why I was waiting to file. I wanted to see what the districts were.”
Wivell filed to run again for District 2A last week. This would be his third term.
“We need to know when the deadlines are,” Wivell said. “We need to know what the districts are so people know how they can reach the voters.”
The filing deadline to petition against the new legislative maps is 4:30 p.m. Thursday in the Maryland Court of Appeals.
Parrott said he feels good about the upcoming legal challenges, citing similar litigation in North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Florida.
All three states have had representatives challenge their congressional maps.
“All three of their state supreme courts have overturned their congressional map,” Parrott said. “And that was just in the last cycle. So that sets the precedent in Maryland going to the highest court, which is the Court of Appeals.”