Fairer Representation for Howard

December 07, 1991

Howard County legislators, with good reason, are strenuously protesting the proposed maps advanced by the Governor's Redistricting Advisory Committee.

The plan splits the county into five Senate districts, only two of which would be controlled by Howard voters. Two of the remaining three districts would be controlled by Baltimore County voters; Carroll County voters would command the other district. All told, only four of the county's 14 delegates would call Howard home.

Howard, owing to its central location between Baltimore and Washington, already shares electoral districts with Prince George's, Montgomery and Carroll counties. And for the most part, the new pairings link compatible communities of interest. Still, the overall effect is highly dilutive. It puts a huge chunk of the county's voters in districts they cannot control. It also splits the county seat, Ellicott City, into three districts.

Geography dictates district-sharing for Howard County. But the district lines could be drawn in ways fairer to voters in Ellicott City and Elkridge.

One suggested alternative would combine the areas shared with Baltimore County along the Patapsco River, giving Howard voters control over a delegate seat and considerable sway in electing a state senator. Another approach calls for creating two single-member subdistricts, thus assuring Howard voters their own delegates within the two Baltimore County districts.

Howard County's population of 187,000 entitles it to an entire district and a shared district with another county. That's the configuration Howard legislators prefer. But geographic realities and the requirements of the federal Voting Rights Act make this impossible.

Still, the advisory panel's proposal could be reconfigured to do better by Howard countians. There will undoubtedly be other adjustments before this proposal arrives on the governor's desk later this month. No one should expect to come out of this difficult process unscathed, but changes should be made to ensure fairness.

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