The district lines

October 18, 2011

The dreaded gerrymander has been sighted in Annapolis as the Maryland General Assembly has convened this week in special session to update the election district lines for the state's U.S. Congressional districts.

And a few weeks into the new year, the assembly will take up the matter of district lines for the state senate and house of delegates. Because it's possible to draw districts in such a way as to confer political advantage to a particular party, no doubt there is a tendency to do that, even as the true purpose is supposed to be drawing districts with as close to exactly the same number of people in them as possible. The more a district appears to be as acrobatic as a limber salamander, the more it is likely to be regarded as a politically-inspired gerrymander.

Invariably, a district drawn by majority Democrats will appear to at least a few Republicans as a gerrymander, and vice versa. These days, cries of gerrymander have been heard in Annapolis, where the lines were drawn mostly by Democrats. In Harford County, however, the lines were drawn by Republicans and the only one to speak out in public about them was a fellow Republican, who praised the effort.

And maybe the local Democrats agree with local GOP leader Scott DeLong, who characterized the Harford district plan as "fair in the letter and spirit of the law." Or maybe they're still sore over having been left out of the process because they weren't paying attention as the last election was approaching and failed to field candidates enough to secure a decent percentage of the county vote.

When it comes down to it, though, it makes little difference. Somewhere along the line, someone will draw a district line for political gain. It's an ignoble practice as old as our nation. Fortunately, though, just because a district is drawn to afford political advantage doesn't mean it always works out that way.

Though these exercises in district making have attracted the attention primarily of editorial writers and political die-hards such as Mr. DeLong, a key group of people will have the final say: the voters.

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