Redistricting Revisited

December 09, 1991

Late tomorrow afternoon, community leaders and other interested individuals from around the state will get a chance to voice concerns about the legislative redistricting plan proposed by a special advisory committee. There is still time for the panel to make modest changes in its maps. But federal laws, population shifts and the complexities of drawing 47 districts make it impossible preserve the status quo that so many politicians and communities desire.

In revisiting the redistricting maps before submitting them to Gov. William Donald Schaefer, the advisory committee ought to make amends in cases where it has divided neighborhoods or dissected counties. The goal should be to keep communities intact wherever possible and to create compact districts with common interests.

Among the problems:

* The heavy-handed five-way slicing of Howard County. There are better and fairer ways to distribute the county's population so voters are assured of more delegate representation.

* The unconscionable three-way division of Ellicott City.

* The halving of Essex.

* The divisions of Pikesville and Towson.

Most of the redistricting controversies have cropped up in the Baltimore area because of two factors: a federal mandate to create a minority district in the Woodlawn-Randallstown area, and the city's declining population.

In some cases, the panel will have great difficulty appeasing critics. In the Pikesville area (which we erroneously said last week would remain in one district), the committee cannot reunite the entire community without distorting the neighboring Baltimore City district and setting off new protests. One way or another, politicians and community leaders will be distressed.

We believe the committee was correct in taking a regional approach to the new legislative district lines. Shared districts are a way of life all over the state -- except in the area surrounding Baltimore City. That is wrong. The new maps will force city and county legislators to think in regional terms.

The city and county neighborhoods that will share districts have more similarities than differences. Many of these residents already share congressional districts without feeling any ill effects. This will also be true of the new, shared legislative districts.

Tomorrow's hearing in Annapolis will be long and emotional. The panel should try to address legitimate concerns. But protesters should not ask for the impossible. New district lines inevitably mean new representation for some communities.

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