Maryland governor names panel to reform legislative redistricting

Reuters News
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Posted: Aug 06, 2015 4:21 PM

By Ian Simpson

(Reuters) - A bipartisan commission will reform the process of redrawing Maryland's congressional district boundaries, seen as among the most gerrymandered in the United States, Governor Larry Hogan said on Thursday.

Hogan, a Republican elected in November, said the panel would aim to give the power to reset congressional boundaries to an independent, nonpartisan panel. Authority to set the districts now rests with lawmakers and the governor.

Hogan created the commission by executive order and said it would open up political debate in the heavily Democratic state.

"Maryland is home to some of the most gerrymandered districts in the country, a distinction we should not be proud of," he said in a statement.

Gerrymandering is the practice of partisan redistricting to provide electoral advantage to one party.

Registered Democrats outnumbered Republicans about two to one in 2012 elections, Maryland election board figures show, but seven of the state's eight U.S. representatives are Democrats.

The 11-member commission comprises seven members appointed by Hogan and four named by state House and Senate leaders. It will hold hearings and examine results in the seven U.S. states that have established independent redistricting panels.

Designing legislative districts every 10 years in Maryland now is mostly up to the governor, who submits a proposed map to the Legislature. Lawmakers then vote on it.

The Maryland commission will submit its findings to Hogan and legislative leaders by Nov. 3, Hogan's statement said. It also will make a recommendation on a redistricting constitutional amendment to be introduced in the 2016 legislative session.

A legal challenge to Maryland's redistricting process is among three reapportionment cases to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in its 2015-16 term.

Maryland is the latest state to wrestle with how legislative boundaries are drawn and avoid gerrymandering.

In an Arizona case, a divided Supreme Court ruled in June that voters concerned that gerrymandering was creating unfair elections were entitled to take redistricting away from state legislatures.

The Florida Supreme Court in July ordered the redrawing of at least eight of the state's 27 congressional districts before 2016 elections.

(For a link to a map of Maryland's congressional districts, click on http://reut.rs/1KTNkEt)

(Editing by Eric Walsh)