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Redistricting knife could cut into county delegation

March 26, 2011|By ANDREW SCHOTZ | andrews@herald-mail.com
By Chad Trovinger, Graphic Artist

WASHINGTON COUNTY — Through redistricting, Washington County's delegation might shrink by 25 percent in about three years.

Every 10 years, after the U.S. Census measures the nation's population, Congressional and legislative districts are redrawn to reflect the changes.

In Western Maryland, the next redistricting is expected to push legislative boundaries east.

The practical effect is that Washington County would be part of two state senatorial districts instead of three and would be in four delegate subdistricts instead of the current five.

Sen. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, said District 2, which he represents, could, for the first time, extend into neighboring Frederick County.

Now, District 2 is entirely in Washington County. District 1 includes all of Garrett and Allegany counties and a piece of western Washington County. District 3 is mostly in Frederick County, but also has the southern tip of Washington County.

Aside from population shifts, Washington County also is losing ground because of a new system of measuring residency. Inmates in state prisons — including the three south of Hagerstown — are now counted in their previous hometowns instead of their current cells.

The Maryland Department of Planning released updated figures last week with the new counts for about 22,000 prisoners.

Baltimore City gained about 5,700 people, adding .9 percent to its population total in the 2010 Census.

On the other hand, Washington County lost about 4,800 people, or 3.3 percent, because of the inmate-counting law.

Somerset County's loss, about 2,700 people, was 10.3 percent of its population, according to the Department of Planning.

The U.S. Census counts people, including inmates, where they were at the time of the count, but a Maryland law enacted last year places inmates at their last known address.

As a delegate, Shank, whose subdistrict included the three prisons, opposed the new inmate-counting law. Donald F. Munson, his predecessor as senator, voted in favor of it.

Last week, Shank reiterated his argument that it was poor policy: Inmates use Washington County's law enforcement, criminal justice and health care systems, especially when they're released, yet aren't counted as living there.

He called it a "blatant power grab" by Democrats in power to help Baltimore City, which has been losing population while all 23 counties gained population.

In District 1, Allegany County, which has two state prisons, lost 3.4 percent of its population because of the new law. That will push District 1 farther into Washington County.

To the east, Frederick County grew 19.5 percent from 2000 to 2010, the third-highest increase among Maryland counties during that period.

Sen. Ronald N. Young, D-Frederick/Washington, said District 3, which he represents, now stands at about 148,000 people, the most populous district in the state.

That's well above the recommended level of 122,813 people for each of the state's 47 senatorial district.

Young said districts can be 5 percent above or below the recommended level, but, through growth, his district is more than 20 percent higher.

A former Department of Planning deputy secretary, Young worked on the last redistricting a decade ago.

Washington County's delegation had six delegates, including three based in Frederick County, and three senators before the last redistricting.

This time, Washington County is expected to drop to four delegates and two senators.

That could mean, for example, less direct representation on House and Senate standing committees.

"It's obvious (that) numbers mean everything," Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., R-Washington/Allegany, said. "Eight is better to have for Washington County than six."

But Young and Shank said the practical change could be minimal, since lawmakers don't have to represent the same county to join forces and support similar causes.

If District 2 slides into Frederick County, the local senator would have the same challenge that now exists in Districts 1 and 3: keeping track of more than one county's issues and concerns.

Young said he tries to stay informed about Washington County, despite having only a tiny piece of his district there. Often, he'll defer to the wisdom of the county's home representatives.

Myers said his subdistrict, 1C, could pick up parts of Subdistrict 2A, such as Maugansville and Williamsport.

Either Subdistrict 2A or Subdistrict 2B could extend into Frederick County, he said.

"I've seen all kinds of things with redistricting," said Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, "but, historically, they've left the city of Hagerstown alone."

Donoghue's subdistrict, 2C, roughly matches the boundaries of Hagerstown.

The redistricting process is expected to start later this year.

The Department of Planning's website says the Maryland General Assembly probably will have a special session in late summer or early fall to choose boundaries for the state's eight Congressional districts.

The governor must propose a state legislative redistricting plan before the 2012 General Assembly session starts, the website says.

The plans usually are challenged in court, Shank and Young said.

The new legislative districts would go into effect for the 2014 election

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