Saturday, May 25, 2013 9:58 PM
Published on: Thursday, October 18, 2012
By Christa Puccio
ROCKVILLE - Montgomery County Councilmember Phil Andrews lead a protest Monday of two dozen state, county and city elected officials against Question 5 on the Nov. Ballot – the Maryland Congressional Redistricting map approved by Governor Martin O’Malley and the General Assembly last fall.
“Redistricting is fundamental to democracy,” said Andrews. “If we don’t have fair and rational districts, we don’t have competition and Gerrymandering has been used now for 200 years to undermine political competition. If we don’t have political competition, our democracy doesn’t work well. We can see what happens in Washington, we can see what happens in other places – Competition is the lifeblood of democracy.”
In attendance at the protest was County Council members Phil Andrews, Marc Elrich, Valerie Ervin, Nancy Floreen, Craig Rice and Hans Riemer, State Delegates Ana Sol Gutierrez, and Aisha Braveboy; Rockville Mayor Phyllis Marcuccio; Rockville City Council members Tom Moore, Bridget Newton, and Mark Pierzchala; Gaithersburg City Council members Jud Ashman, Cathy Drzyzgula and Henry Marraffa; and Takoma Park City Councilmember Seth Grimes.
The Congressional redistricting bill put forth by Gov. Martin O'Malley passed in the General Assembly along mostly partisan lines. Opponents argued the new map would divide communities with long-standing relationships, dilute minority voting power, and combine counties with less obvious ties, all to bolster Democratic power in Congress.
Andrews said the redistricting map the governor and General Assembly drew last fall is an example of gerrymandering – the dividing of a state, county, etc., into election districts to give one political party a majority in many districts while concentrating the voting strength of the other party into as few districts as possible.
The congressional redistricting map chosen by Governor O’Malley caused debate on the topics of gerrymandering in 2011, the meaning of “communities of interest,” and the interpretation of Maryland’s state and federal laws it must adhere to.
Andrews said Congressional District 3 looks like blood splatter on the map as opposed to a compact district. “This is a once in a decade opportunity to advance real redistricting reform. The map that the General Assembly and governor approved last fall thankfully has been petitioned to referendum so the voters can have their say,” said Andrews. “It’s Question 5. All of us are here to urge voters to vote against this gerrymander and repeal it. That will not affect the Congressional Elections that are ongoing now, but it would require the governor and the General Assembly to redraw the boundaries and hopefully if there’s enough public pressure, propel them to pass real redistricting reform including the establishment of an independent redistricting commission because we can see here what happens when elected officials draw their own boundaries.”
Gutierrez said its “nearly impossible” to elect minority candidates in Congress over the next 10 years with Congressional Districts 3, 6 and 8 redistricted to be a majority of white voters. “This tells the story - The previous congressional districts, two of them were majority minority and one was very close to one,” said Gutierrez. “Congressional District 3 was 58 percent, Congressional District 6 was 53 percent and Congressional District 8 was 47 percent. Now what is it? Each one of these are a majority white district and absolutely diluted the presence and the voting power and the ability of minorities to be represented at the congressional level and as we’ll soon see at the legislative level. The 58 percent for Congressional District 3 went down to 37 percent, the 53 percent went down to 36 percent, and in Congressional District 8 the 47 percent went down to 36 percent. That cannot be what is the results of following the important principles of representation that the Voting Rights Act urges us to do every year. So, what can we do? This vote in the upcoming elections can stop the proposal and ask the legislature, preferably a commission, to look at it and come up with a better map. It does not change the current election, but it will give us the opportunity to not live with this map or others for the next 10 years.”
Gutierrez stopped short of saying the districts were drawn along racist lines. “I can’t attribute motivation to each one of the individuals who voted, I’m just looking at what resulted and if the results are as I presented and you’re welcome to take a look at the chart, then I think we are not following the guidelines of the Voting Rights Act that says that you should not fragment communities of interest and dilute the voting power of minorities and that’s exactly what’s happened. The Voting Rights Act has some very clear definitions as to what are communities of interest and it can be a very broad set of factors, but one of them is racial ethnic linguistic cultural interest do add as factors for defining a community of interest.”
Ervin agreed that the maps are redistricted for certain districts not to be a majority of minority voters. “Currently, Congressional District 8 is majority minority,” said Ervin. “I don’t say currently, I mean it used to be until the map got redrawn. By reconfiguring district 8, to give district 6 more democrats, district 8 becomes majority white by going into parts of Frederick and Carroll counties. This is really important because in 2010 during the census count, Montgomery County for the first time became a majority minority county. By taking district 4 out of Montgomery County, there is virtually, we believe, no possibility of electing a minority candidate at the congressional level in Montgomery County, a majority minority county, and not into the foreseeable future.”
Andrews said it was almost impossible to remember the boundaries of District 3 without a GPS and a boat. “It includes parts of four counties and Baltimore City, it runs from Towson to Annapolis, to Olney and Silver Spring and some areas in between and it drove in many ways, the rest of the map because of these boundaries,” said Andrews. “This has been rated as the third least compact district in the entire country. I can’t imagine what the other maps look like, but this is Exhibit A as to why we need real redistricting reform. And why we need voters to repeal this map by voting against Question 5.”