Maryland’s two redistricting commissions are tasked with creating new congressional and state legislative maps.
But at the state level, “equal” doesn’t have to be as exact.
That leeway from the ideal population, Aro says, is generally allowed to be as much as plus or minus 5%.
“Legislative districts, the definition of ‘substantially equal population’ allows for greater leeway in terms of meeting that one person one vote standard,” Aro said at a commission meeting last week.
Central areas of the state saw the most growth, while some counties in the West and on the Eastern Shore lost population.
Congressional districts should be as close to zero variance of population as possible, according to Karl Aro, who chairs the Legislative Redistricting Advisory Commission.
The ideal population for a Senate district in the new legislative maps will be a little over 131,000 people.
Some counties, including Montgomery and Prince George’s, have enough people to support several Senate districts.
Some counties, particularly in the West and on the Eastern Shore, will need to be combined with other counties to reach the necessary population for a Senate district. Sen. Bryan Simonaire, R-Anne Arundel, is a member of the legislative commission.
He told Capital News Service that with today’s technology, there’s not a need for such a wide variance in population among Senate districts. He said in the last redistricting process, the legislative map made Democratic districts underpopulated and packed Republican voters into overpopulated jurisdictions.
For instance, in a 2012 legislative map proposed by then-governor Martin O’Malley, Districts 24, 25, and 26 in reliably Democratic Prince George’s County each had populations under 118,000 people. Districts 36 and 37, on the traditionally Republican Eastern Shore, have populations closer to 128,000 apiece.
The report cited “extensive testimony” that the 5% rule was “used for political purposes unrelated to sound redistricting goals.” Simonaire thinks a better map is possible this year, as long as those drawing the maps keep communities of interest as the first priority.
A 2015 report from the Maryland Redistricting Reform Commission recommended that Maryland move to limit population variance in legislative districts to plus or minus 1%. The difference in population was “clearly done from a political standpoint,” Simonaire said. “Not from the benefit of the people in the last go around.”