Maryland lawmakers OK new map for 188 General Assembly seats

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — The Maryland General Assembly approved new boundaries for its 188 seats on Thursday, choosing a map supported by Democrats who control the legislature instead of a separate proposal backed by Republican Gov. Larry Hogan.

The 95-42 vote by the Maryland House came in a redistricting year that was politically unusual in a heavily Democratic state, with a rare two-term Republican governor in office during the once-a-decade redrawing of legislative districts based on the U.S. Census.

This year, there were dueling map proposals: one from a commission backed by Hogan and another supported by a panel weighted with Democratic leadership, who have a supermajority in both chambers. Democrats outnumber Republicans 99-42 in the House, and 32-15 in the Senate.

Hogan, a longtime advocate for redistricting reform, created a commission to draw new maps by executive order. The governor appointed the three co-chairs, who appointed six civilian members, for a total of three Republicans, three Democrats and three independents.

While Hogan touted the commission for taking politicians out of the process of drawing maps, Democrats questioned why the governor should outline the contours of the commission without input of the legislature.

“I object to the concept that the governor, that any governor, that any executive, should be the one determining the rules for the drawing of legislative maps,” said Del. Eric Luedtke, a Montgomery County Democrat who is the House majority leader, as well as a member of the panel that created the map on a party line vote of 4-2.

Republicans noted that past Maryland governors have led on putting forward maps to the legislature. The GOP argued for an amendment to substitute the map approved by the panel of legislators for the one produced by the commission created by Hogan, but Democrats rejected it.

In Maryland, where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-1, critics of the redistricting process have long criticized the state’s map for egregious gerrymandering — in which politicians draw district lines to favor one party.

Del. Jason Buckel, a western Maryland Republican who is the House minority leader, said the map supported by the governor was an effort to change that. He said it was developed by citizens who put more thought into creating a fair, nonpartisan map, rather than one created by politicians looking out for themselves.

“You don’t need to rig the game,” Buckel, who represents Allegany County, said. “You’re going to win. You’re going to be the majority party based upon the Census data and the political trajectories of this state.”

Democrats say the approved map keeps an overwhelming majority of state residents in their existing districts and adjusts for population changes in the state.

In one notable change, Baltimore will lose two delegates in the House under the new map. The city, whose delegation is comprised entirely of Democrats, will go from having 16 House seats to 14. The population of the state’s largest city dropped 5.7% in the latest census, from 620,961 people in 2010 to 585,708 in 2020.

Last month, the General Assembly approved a new congressional map in a special session, after overriding the governor’s veto of legislation containing the new boundaries for the state’s eight U.S. House seats, which Democrats now have a 7-1 advantage. Opponents are challenging that map in court, and they are planning to challenge the map for the state legislative districts as well.

“At this very moment, we have attorneys and election experts working on a lawsuit that will be filed in the Maryland Court of Appeals in the near future,” said Doug Mayer, a spokesperson for Fair Maps Maryland.

Unlike the congressional map, Hogan does not have the ability to veto the General Assembly map that passed Thursday.