Redistricting is a once in a decade opportunity to ensure community interests are represented equitably in every election that follows the creation of our election maps. These may include quality of education, access to healthcare, employment laws, community safety and any other issue that you value and legislators control. The redistricting process will affect your access and influence with your lawmakers on these issues for ten years.
The Ebb & Flow of District Populations
There are a number of factors that need to be taken into account during this process, but primarily, redistricting is required to account for shifts in population. Maybe your district grew, maybe it shrunk, in response the lines need to be redrawn to ensure each district is as equal as practicable.
Federal Standards for Congressional Districts
Congressional districts apply to the 8-person delegation to the House of Representatives who head to Washington D.C. to represent the state of Maryland on our behalf on national issues along with our two Senators who are elected in statewide elections.
To draw the districts for our Representatives, there are some additional federal requirements that must be adhered to.
- The districts must comply with the One Person, One Vote principle which means that each person’s vote should be equal to another’s within the state.
- The districts must be in compliance with the Voting Rights Act which prohibits districts which would discriminate against communities or individuals on the basis of race, color, or those in a protected language minority group.
Constitutional Standards for State Legislative Districts
State Legislative Districts apply to our state-level senators and delegates who are responsible for making laws that specifically affect residents throughout Maryland, but not the rest of the country. They meet annually in Annapolis from January to April for a 90-day legislative session.
When drawing their districts, in addition to the federal standards which apply to Congressional districts above, their districts have additional requirements outlined in the Maryland Constitution which must be applied. Districts must be:
- Compact—not sprawling all over the state, they are contained within one localized area.
- Contiguous—there cannot be one piece of a district disconnected from another part of the same district, perhaps with other districts squeezed between them, it must all be one cohesive district.
- Give consideration to natural borders—like the Chesapeake Bay—and political boundaries—like cities and counties.
Gerrymandering happens when redistricting goes wrong.
Gerrymandering is the manipulation of election district lines for reasons other than shifting population or the required criteria we outlined above. Often, gerrymandering happens to stifle the votes of specific populations based on political affiliation and even race—even though it’s prohibited by the Voting Rights Act!
Gerrymanderers can be sneaky in their ways, but have also been quite blatant historically—but when members of the community start to really look at the lines, the discrimination becomes clearer.
These are the only reasons for gerrymandering though. Often it can be used to keep incumbents—lawmakers who are already in office—in their seats, or it may be used to punish lawmakers who may not have voted the way the party wished on a particular bill or policy.
No matter the reason, gerrymandering creates an inherent unfairness in every election the tainted maps are used. It prioritizes political self-interest and discrimination over the fair representation of the people and their needs.
How do you make your concerns known?
No one knows your community and its unique needs better than you do. So now is the time to make sure the map drawers know how to draw maps in your community to make sure you get the resources and representatives you need! Maps that follow these standards AND take into account public input from members in the community creates more accountability among legislators to their constituents—YOU!
There are currently two commissions working to draw maps and take public input in Maryland. Click here to learn more about these commissions and how you can provide feedback about your community and its needs.