State Watch

Maryland Democrats approve conditional US House map

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Maryland’s General Assembly has approved new U.S. House district lines that appear to give a reprieve to the state’s lone Republican member of Congress, after an earlier map was struck down by a county judge.

The state House gave final approval to the new plan late Wednesday, after the state Senate voted for new map lines on Tuesday. The bill passed on party-line votes in both chambers, in which Democrats hold supermajorities.

The new maps make many of Maryland’s notoriously circuitous districts more congruent, consolidating seats held by Democratic incumbents whose districts currently wind around Baltimore and south to the Washington suburbs.

They would likely maintain the present partisan makeup of Maryland’s congressional delegation, in which Democrats control seven of eight seats.

The maps will move some conservative areas west of the two population centers into a district held by Rep. David Trone (D), whose seat would become far more competitive. Trone’s district, which stretches from Montgomery County to Maryland’s western panhandle, was significantly overhauled a decade ago, when Democrats successfully maneuvered to oust then-Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R).

Democrats ditched a plan to target the only remaining Republican-held seat, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. In one of the more aggressive efforts to gerrymander congressional maps, initial maps passed last year would have included tens of thousands of new Democratic voters from Anne Arundel County with conservative voters in the rural east, connected only by the Bay Bridge, in an attempt to oust Rep. Andy Harris (R).

That version would have put Harris in a district that voted narrowly for President Biden in the 2020 elections.

But that plan ran into a roadblock last week, when Anne Arundel County Circuit Court Judge Lynne Battaglia ruled that lawmakers had violated the state constitution to unduly dilute the power of Republican voters. Battaglia ordered the legislature to submit new maps by the end of this week.

The new maps make only minor changes to Harris’s district, likely leaving it solidly in the Republican column. His district as drawn under the new bill would have favored former President Trump by a 14-point margin in 2020.

Gov. Larry Hogan (R), who helped lead the challenge to the initial maps that passed over his veto, has not said whether he will sign the new version. Battaglia has a new hearing scheduled in the case on Friday.

Lawmakers voted down a Republican amendment to implement maps drawn by a bipartisan citizen’s commission, convened by Hogan in what he said was an effort to take the partisanship out of the inherently partisan redistricting process.

But Harris’s future is not assured, because Democrats built themselves a backdoor path to enacting their initial maps. The bill approved late Wednesday would implement the first version, targeting Harris’s seat, if Battaglia’s initial ruling does not stand on appeal.

Attorney General Brian Frosh (D) has said he will appeal Battaglia’s decision blocking the initial version of the maps to a higher court.

Tags Andy Harris Biden congressional districts congressional maps David Trone gerrymander Gerrymandering Joe Biden Larry Hogan redistricting Redistricting Roscoe Bartlett

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