Redistricting approved, but with protest votes

Nays of 20 senators threaten to delay date when map becomes law

April 03, 2002|By Sarah Koenig | Sarah Koenig,SUN STAFF

A group of 20 state senators - Democrats and Republicans alike - voted yesterday against Gov. Parris N. Glendening's proposal for new congressional district lines, a surprise protest that could delay the map's effective date and frustrate some candidates.

The redistricting plan, which has been widely criticized for its border contortions designed to help elect one or two more Democrats to Congress from Maryland, was approved by the Senate. But it fell short of being passed as emergency legislation.

The measure had been introduced as an emergency bill, meaning it would become law as soon as the governor signed it, rather than June 1. To get that special status, it needed 29 votes, three-fifths of the Senate. It passed yesterday two votes short, 27-20.

The tally sent legislative leaders scurrying to figure out a quick fix to discourage procedural meddling with the map.

"We can't screw this thing up," said House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., an Allegany County Democrat.

The problem as leadership sees it is this: If the map doesn't take effect until June 1, opponents might have time to gather the thousands of signatures on petitions needed to put the measure on the ballot in November.

Until Election Day, the current congressional map would be in place - and would be open to legal challenge because it no longer accurately represents equal voter populations.

The confusion and political turmoil such a scenario would create was quickly obvious to lawmakers. To avoid it, House of Delegates leaders will try to amend the bill to make it again an emergency measure and then send it back to the Senate for another vote.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a Prince George's County Democrat, said he was confident he could round up the needed extra votes by that time.

The state's legislative and congressional maps must be redrawn every decade, based on the U.S. Census, to account for population changes. The governor's redistricting committee drew a map that they hope will heavily favor Democrats, who represent four of the state's eight congressional districts, though Democratic voters outnumber Republicans 2 to 1.

Yesterday's maneuvering underscored the widespread unhappiness with a map that is all but impossible to change. Because each congressional district must have the same number of residents, give or take one or two people, even the smallest shift can reverberate statewide.

The 3rd District represented by Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin, a Baltimore Democrat, is almost unrecognizable under the new plan. He has complained bitterly about it - to little avail.

The map has also annoyed Democrats from Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties, who say the new lines mercilessly chop up their jurisdictions and disenfranchise their constituents. Montgomery County lawmakers are angered that the map divides between two districts the close-knit community of Montgomery Village, just north of Gaithersburg.

Democratic Sens. George W. Della Jr. of Baltimore and Norman R. Stone Jr. of Baltimore County voted against the map largely because of their anger over the new legislative redistricting map, which threatens their re-election chances. "I think the whole process was handled poorly," Stone said. "It's a farce."

Republicans, too, have railed against the plan.

"If you looked up `gerrymandering' in the dictionary, you'd see this map," said Sen. J. Lowell Stoltzfus, the minority leader from the Eastern Shore, adding that he might try to derail it with a referendum petition if Democrats fail to get the votes they need in the next round.

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