On the line

July 12, 2011|By AEGIS EDITORIAL

Harford County recently announced it received two Achievement Awards from the National Association of Counties for initiatives undertaken in the last year. It's kind of like the board game Risk, wherein players roll dice and move armies as they vie with fellow players to take over the world, territory by territory.

It's the decennial election district reapportionment process, which began in Harford County with an unusual political skirmish. In the past, the county council district lines were drawn, as per usual based on new numbers from the latest U.S. Census, by a commission consisting of political appointees, Republicans and Democrats.

This time, however, in part because the local Democratic Party's leadership was asleep at the switch, Democratic voter participation in the most recent council election was such that no Democrat is on the commission. That fight, at this juncture, is in the background, however, as the county's three-member redistricting commission put forth five versions of county council district maps, narrowed from 20 initially devised. The idea in drawing these district maps is to bunch together voting precincts in such a way that each of six geographic areas is represented by as close to the exact same number of people as is possible, thus preserving the principle of one vote, one person.

The fights arise because certain precincts are reliably Republican, and others dependably Democratic, and the parties have an interest in diluting the opposition's stronghold precincts while maximizing the influence of their own. Thus we encounter districts that look like salamanders and are named for this acrobatic creature, as well as the politician from the early days of the Republic, Elbridge Gerry.

Such slithering districts are said to be gerrymandered. They're easy to spot on a map. They're the districts that slither across vast territories for no apparent geographical reason – not unlike Maryland's Sixth Congressional District that stretches from Garrett County through the northern half of Harford County.

Gerrymandered districts are something to be on the lookout for when making comments about the various plans for future Harford County Council district. They're also something to be on the lookout for as future redistricting plans for the Maryland General Assembly and the U.S. House of Representatives are unveiled in the coming months.

Regardless of our various political leanings, it remains preferable for district lines to be based on geography and community because local representation starts with a localized voting base familiar with local issues.

This holds true, by the way, regardless of whether you're part of a Democratic leaning community in a county where the county district lines are being drawn exclusively by Republicans or a Republican leaning county where the lines are being drawn by a state commission dominated by Democrats.

Presumably we're all citizens of Harford County, the State of Maryland and the United States before we're adherents to a particular political party. As such, we should all be on the lookout for efforts to divide us on the basis of political rather than community affiliation.

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