Redistricting public hearings begin in Maryland

July 23, 2011|By ANDREW SCHOTZ |

HANCOCK, Md. — A panel considering how to redraw Maryland's legislative boundaries started its state listening tour Saturday morning in Hancock.

Five people spoke at a hearing of the Governor's Redistricting Advisory Committee at Hancock Middle-Senior High School. About 30 people attended.

Sen. George C. Edwards, R-Garrett/Allegany/Washington, urged that the boundary of District 1, which he represents, and District 2, which Sen. Christopher B. Shank represents, stay where it is; District 1 already is the state's largest by land mass, he said.

However, Shank, R-Washington, recommended that the border between Districts 1 and 2 move from Conococheague Creek to Md. 63 at Cearfoss.

Some see redistricting as an opportunity for Democrats to carve the 6th District so it's less favorable to Republican U.S. Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, the 10-term incumbent.

But Howard L. Gorrell of Smithsburg, who is deaf, said through a sign-language interpreter that politics shouldn't play a part.

"No gerrymandering," he urged, referring to drawing meandering districts for political gain.

Gorrell said four congressional districts, including the 6th District, fall into natural shapes by region; each of the other four should be based on an entire county, then extended outward.

Redistricting is done every 10 years to shift boundaries according to new census information.

Congressional districts are supposed to be equal, with about 700,000 people apiece.

Maryland's 47 legislative districts are supposed to have 122,813 people apiece, but can have up to 5 percent leeway higher or lower.

Under new population figures, District 1 is about 5.2 percent less than the ideal and District 2 is about 3.4 percent more than the ideal.

With about 20.3 percent more people than the idea, District 3 is the most out-of-balance district in the state.

When District 3 is altered, its Washington County sliver — two precincts — might be shifted to District 2.

Washington County Democratic Central Committee Chairwoman Elizabeth Paul called for the 6th District to be more unified instead of "a patchwork of odds and ends" covering all or parts of eight counties.

Washington County Election Director Kaye E. Robucci asked if city of Hagerstown districts could be drawn to include annexed areas.

The committee is made up of Jeanne D. Hitchcock, Gov. Martin O'Malley's secretary of appointments; Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr.; House Speaker Michael E. Busch; former Del. James King; and Richard Stewart, president and CEO of Montgomery Mechanical Services Inc.

The committee will recommend a congressional redistricting plan for the Maryland General Assembly to consider during a special session in October.

The committee also will recommend a state legislative plan, which the General Assembly will review starting in January.

Maryland's last legislative redistricting ultimately was decided in court.

After the 30-minute hearing in Hancock, the committee went to Hood College in Frederick, Md., to hold another hearing.

The committee is scheduled to have one more hearing in July, seven in August and two in September.

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