18 Maryland Counties are Disenfranchised

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

May 15, 1994

On a map of Maryland, using a ruler, draw a straight line from Wheaton to the point where Interstate 83 crosses into Pennsylvania. Then draw a second line from Wheaton to Annapolis and a third line from Annapolis to, again, the point where I-83 enters Pennsylvania.

What emerges is a pyramid, which conveniently locates the seat of political power in Maryland. The state is comprised of 24 political subdivisions -- Baltimore City and 23 counties. If any part of a political subdivision is traversed by one of the lines forming the pyramid, the subdivision, generally as a whole, is a component of the seat of power. If not so traversed, the subdivision is essentially disenfranchised. The subdivisions traversed by the pyramid include only six, Baltimore City, and Montgomery, Prince George's, Anne Arundel, Howard and Baltimore counties.

In the presidential election of 1992, 19 Maryland counties voted pluralities or majorities for then-President George Bush. Five subdivisions, all of those traversed by the lines of the pyramid except Anne Arundel County, favored Bill Clinton. But the number of voters in the five subdivisions far exceeded the total number of voters in the 19 other subdivisions, and Maryland's ballot in the electoral vote was cast for Bill Clinton.

Other repercussions are found. The Maryland Senate approved a bill to prohibit trading or possession of 18 types of what proponents and much of the media persist in describing erroneously as assault weapons. The Maryland House of Delegates duplicated the performance, and the Maryland governor, still refusing to accept that the firearm is the servant, not the master, of the hand that holds it, will most assuredly sign the bill.

In the Senate, the vote was a lopsided 29 in favor to 18 against (probably again largely duplicated in the House of Delegates, but data not readily available). In the Senate, every "yea" vote emanated from one of the six political subdivisions transected by the lines of the pyramid. Not one senator representing any of the 18 other subdivisions voted in favor of the bill (while, surprisingly, five senators even from within the pyramid voted against -- and will undoubtedly be appropriately censured by their colleagues).

The performance of the Senate in the pretended determination to address crime serves as a reminder that perhaps the only salvation for 18 disenfranchised counties is to withdraw from Maryland, and establish a new and sovereign state (or two of them, because the metropolitan pyramid would geographically divide the western counties from the southern and eastern ones).

The Senate, theoretically, represents equally all of the citizens of the state, but the theory is at variance with fact. The configuration of the Senate, even if it once did so, no longer mirrors the configuration of the U.S. Senate, the latter a legislative chamber that neutralizes the potential for large populations to exercise dictatorial power over small populations.

Unlike the U.S. Senate, in which every state has two seats, the Maryland Senate is a body in which seats are allocated fully on the basis of population, the ultimate consequence of tinkering that began decades ago and that eventually encountered the authority of federal courts disdainful of allocating seats in a legislative body by negotiation. . . .

A Maryland Senate in which each political subdivision had only two seats probably would have vetoed the General Assembly from again sidestepping an attack on criminals and crime by focusing, instead, on ordinary citizens and inanimate objects.

A Maryland Senate in which each political subdivision had only two seats might have turned back then-Gov. Marvin Mandel two decades ago on his demand for a statewide additional nickel-a-gallon tax on gasoline for funding public transportation in Baltimore and environs (less believing that what was good for Baltimore would be good for Maryland than simply needing the money). To assert that a commonality of interest prevails throughout the state is tenuous in view of the fundamental proposition that the biggest government and the most government benefit the metropolitan corridor quite considerably more than they benefit the remaining 18 counties.

In the larger setting, a New Maryland (as in New Hampshire) or a West Maryland (as in West Virginia), or both, by whatever name or names, might have been able to cast an electoral vote reflecting the express choice of their own citizens; not that it would have made a real difference, but, at least, the preference of the people inhabiting about 80 percent of the land mass of what is now Maryland would have been conveyed.

In one of the states of the far west -- California, if memory serves -- certain districts or counties appear to be serious about seceding from the state. Meanwhile, the people of Staten Island (the borough of Richmond, one of five boroughs that comprise New York City) voted last year to secede from the other four boroughs. Even the New York State governor has reportedly declined to oppose the process, as it proceeds to address the considerable obstacles that remain. Eighteen counties in Maryland might have to consider following the lead.

James A. Runser

Westminster

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