Mapmakers mock voters, fairness

January 30, 2002|By Ellen Sauerbrey

YOU'VE GOT to give it to Parris Glendening and his court jesters. They know how to crack a joke. They have finally released their long-awaited congressional reapportionment map for Maryland. It has to be a joke! A very slick joke. But the punch line is a sharp left hook to the solar plexus of Maryland voters.

They have sliced and diced counties and packed and smacked Republican voters in hopes of changing the current 4-4 congressional district balance to a 6-2 Democratic edge.

The proposed map looks like an incomprehensible jigsaw puzzle. The rules of the game: Pack as many Republicans as possible into two districts to make it hard for a Republican to win any of the remaining six.

U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett's 6th District would run from West Virginia to the Susquehanna River, gobbling up tasty Republican morsels in northern Baltimore, Harford, Montgomery and Howard Counties. Rep. Wayne Gilchrest's new digs begin in Ocean City, plunge through the center of Harford County and lunge across Baltimore County to Mays Chapel, looking like a monstrous blue crab with outstretched claws.

The claws of the 1st Congressional District on the Eastern Shore just happen to take in the central Baltimore County homes of Rep. Bob Ehrlich and yours truly.

The new 2nd Congressional District weaves and bobs across southern Harford County, eastern Baltimore County and consumes bits and pieces of central and western Baltimore County and Baltimore City, carefully skirting Republican neighborhoods, wherever possible. Every attempt has been made to convert this Republican district into a Democratic district tailored for Dutch Ruppersberger, the Baltimore County executive.

Baltimore County is chopped up into five congressional districts, while neighboring Harford County is cut into thirds and Anne Arundel County into quarters.

Rep. Ben Cardin, a Democrat, must be wondering what he did to aggravate his vindictive governor. The 3rd Congressional District is certainly the most creative bit of map drawing and may become one of the most competitive districts. His heavily Democratic base in Pikesville appears to be offset with indigestible hunks of Republicans in western Howard and Anne Arundel counties. Connecting the pieces of this weirdly shaped phenomenon, and wrapping it around the 7th District, is a strip of Baltimore City about as wide as a two-lane highway.

Surprisingly, the map does not accommodate the two Democratic congressional wannabes, Del. Mark Shriver and Sen. Chris Van Hollen, who will have to fight over the same Montgomery County 8th District currently occupied by Connie Morella. Congresswoman Morella has lost some of her more heavily Republican precincts and in return has been given a swath of Montgomery and Prince George's counties bordering Washington, significantly increasing the Democratic registration advantage.

The Democratic National Committee ordered the local powers that be to create a 6-2 map. They have certainly accommodated that demand, but it is at the expense of any rationality or fairness.

Thanks to the age of computerization, it is now easy to plug in voting history and Census data and manipulate the numbers to achieve a precise objective. No respect is given to subdivision or geographical boundaries. No attempt is made to create districts that are compact or contiguous. This process is about one thing and only one thing - raw political power that is determined to wipe out any vestiges of competition to Maryland's one-party control.

Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry, whose party drew a district resembling a salamander in 1812, gave us the term "gerrymandering." Maryland map drawers have done him one better.

Ellen Sauerbrey is a former Republican leader of the Maryland House of Delegates and twice was her party's candidate for governor.

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