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Maryland’s Congressional Redistricting: Let’s Make it Transparent and Accountable

Should voters pick their reps or vice versa? Since reps get to do the picking, Snider calls on the Governor's Redistricting Advisory Committee to make its process more transparent and accountable.

On Aug. 30, 2011, I testified in Annapolis before the 2011 Governor’s Redistricting Advisory Committee.  The Committee is charged with the redrawing of Congressional districts, which the U.S. Constitution mandates that each state does every ten years after the Census.  The Committee is holding 12 public hearings throughout Maryland during this redistricting cycle.  The Annapolis hearing was the only one scheduled for Anne Arundel County.

The five member Committee is appointed by the Governor.  The two most prominent members are Mike Miller, President of the Maryland Senate, and Mike Busch, Speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates.  Four of the members are recognized Democrats; one is a recognized Republican.  The Republican, James King, is a former delegate from Anne Arundel County.  

Perhaps because of its location at the State House, the hearing attracted a large fraction of the Anne Arundel County delegation to the Maryland General Assembly. Despite the prominent political pedigree of the audience members, relatively few elected leaders spoke and the few that did, if I recall correctly, were all Republicans.  Perhaps the most common request of audience members was to have a single member of Congress for Anne Arundel County.  Anne Arundel County is currently divided among four members of Congress.  This was sometimes linked to a complaint about Anne Arundel County's highly gerrymandered Congressional districts.  

Of the two types of gerrymanders, partisan and pro-incumbent, Maryland politics dictate the primacy of the partisan gerrymander.   Whenever one party is predominant in a state, whether it be Democrats or Republicans, partisan gerrymanders predominate.  

Due to a lack of speakers, the meeting ended early.  Nevertheless, at least ten people spoke, including myself.  Whereas the other speakers focused on the substance of Congressional redistricting lines, I focused on the transparency of the process.  As with many local public hearings, this one was a one way affair, with the Committee members listening but not asking questions or otherwise engaging in conversation, except to occasionally interject a fact to correct what they believed to be a misperception.  

My written comments submitted online to the Committee after the hearing, are pasted below:

From: J.H. Snider
Sent: Wednesday, September 07, 2011 11:46 AM
To: 'Redistricting2011@mdp.state.md.us'
Subject: written comments submitted to the 2011 Governor’s Redistricting Advisory Committee concerning the transparency of the Committee's work

Dear Maryland Redistricting Advisory Committee Members:

At your public hearing in Annapolis on August 30, 2011, I spoke before your Committee about the need to modernize the Committee’s transparency technologies and policies.  At the hearing, “Guidelines for Public Hearings” were handed out that requested written comments.  Here are my ten written suggestions:

  1. Provide via the Committee’s public website email signups for notification of Committee meetings, including changes to dates and locations of Committee meetings, so that the Committee’s hearings are not dominated by insiders.
  2. Provide on the Committee’s public website in a well-structured, downloadable format all the redistricting related data used by the Committee in devising its redistricting map.
  3. Use only open source redistricting software, such as that provided by the Public Mapping Project, to do the redistricting.
  4. Provide on the Committee’s public website the open source redistricting software in such a way that members of the public have the same access to the redistricting data and software as members of the Committee.
  5. Provide on the Committee’s public website a copy of all written comments submitted to the Committee so that members of the public do not have to file a Public Information Act request (a very unreliable process in Maryland) to access the comments.
  6. Provide on the Committee’s public website a copy of the redistricting plan submitted to the Governor 30 days before the General Assembly must adopt the plan.
  7. Provide an authoritative time stamp next to all documents, including different versions of the same document, concerning when a document was placed on the Committee’s public website.
  8. Provide on the Committee’s public website the website’s editorial policies concerning material information both placed and not placed on the website.
  9. Maintain the Committee’s public website for at least ten years after the completion of the Committee’s work (that is, through the next redistricting cycle) and have the Maryland State Archives immediately archive the Committee’s work after its work has been completed.
  10. Acknowledge on the Committee’s public website all its violations, if any, of Maryland’s Open Meetings Act and Public Information Act, including delays in fulfilling Public Information Act requests.

 

Additional, albeit minimal, ideas for transparency may be found in the Redistricting Transparency Act of 2011, H.R. 419, introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives on January 25, 2011.  The Committee should be applauded for incorporating several of the ideas included in this bill, including maintaining a public website for the state redistricting entity.  A noteworthy recommendation that the Committee has not followed is: “The State redistricting entity shall ensure that any comment submitted by a member of the public to the site established under this section, including a comment on any plan proposed by the entity or any other person, and any other comment relating to Congressional redistricting in the State, is posted on the site not later than 72 hours after submission.”

As the Public Mapping Project observes, “The drawing of electoral districts is among the least transparent processes in democratic governance.”  Since transparency is a foundation for democratic accountability, this is a problem.  But fortunately, new technology has made it possible to easily address it.   The public should demand that the Committee does so.

Sincerely,

J.H. Snider, President

iSolon.org

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Amy Leahy September 13, 2011 at 01:21 AM
Senator Ed Reilly will speak at the Severna Park Republican Women's Club meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 20th about the redistricting. Our Shepherd Lutheran Church on Benfield Rd. starting at 10:00. Open to the public. Refreshments served.
JH September 13, 2011 at 08:40 PM
If the Dems have their way they will create another district in Anne Arundel for the purpose of electing Chaz Bono.
Dan Tootle October 09, 2011 at 12:53 AM
Prince George county has been losing population per the most recent census. State Dems are adding part of SP and the Broadneck Peninsula voters to the PG district so that the Dem senator from that district will not lose his seat. Although AA County is predominantly Rep, there are enough Dem voters in the new district to overcome the Rep voters and maintain the Dem senator in place. Too bad that the senator has little regard for SP and the Broadneck area voters, and we can expect little from her as our political representative.
LK October 20, 2011 at 01:48 AM
--- Maryland Open Meetings Law Compliance Board --- The Open Meetings Law Compliance Board's annual meeting is scheduled for October 26, 2011, 10:30 a.m. at the Attorney General's Office, 200 Saint Paul Place, Baltimore, Maryland, 21202 - 19th Floor Sachs Conference Room. If you plan to attend, please e-mail opengov@oag.state.md.us or call Kathy Izdebski at (410) 576-6327.

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