My adventures in redistricting reform

What the reform panel is proposing is about as far removed from party bosses as feasible. …. one thing is clear, the commission is headed in the proper direction.

Baltimore Sun editorial, November 2

Gerrymandering is rife across the country, resulting in artificially drawn districts intended to protect or defeat certain incumbents, maximize one party’s share of power, or achieve other political goals. My own state of Maryland suffers from a famously awful Congressional gerrymander, including the notorious District 3, compared with a “broken-winged pterodactyl” or the blood splatters from a crime scene.

I’ve had a chance to do something about this problem over the past three months as co-chair of the Maryland Redistricting Reform Commission, created by Gov. Larry Hogan in August to gather information and draft recommendations for a new and better way of doing things. Following public hearings, testimony from experts and considerable research, we filed our report with the governor on Tuesday.

Len Lazarick at Maryland Reporter sums up some of the key points. If enacted, our plan would make Maryland the only state in which elected legislators and the governor would no say at all — zero — in deciding who should sit on a line-drawing commission. Our plan follows several elements of California’s ground-breaking plan, including screening of volunteers and randomized pools, simplified and adapted to the circumstances of our smaller state. In addition to requiring congruence with county and city boundaries where possible, contiguity, and compactness, we would join a very few states in instructing the drafters of lines to ignore partisan indicators such as voter registration and past voting results, as well as the place of residence of incumbents or any other person.

Full report here. Some more coverage: Carroll County Times editorial; Naomi Eide, Capital News Service; Josh Hicks, Washington Post; Erin Cox, Baltimore Sun; Fox Baltimore; Jen Fifield, Frederick News-Post (this last quoting me at length, and see also this profile in August).


  • “requiring congruence with county and city boundaries where possible, contiguity, and compactness”

    I followed the links all the way through to the final report. Congruence with political boundaries and contiguity are fairly simple, but no mention is made of how you recommend to measure compactness.

    The ratio of boundary length to area would probably make a good measure of compactness.

  • See pp. 27 and 56 where we discuss this at length, including the two most widely used measures, total-perimeter and deviation from rectangular/circular shape. We did not recommend putting a measure of compactness into permanent constitutional language, although Colorado, for one, does do this with its total-perimeter test (see p. 56).

    • Thanks.

  • I have long thought that a computer program could be designed using GIS data to draw simply compact voting districts.

    People would hate them.

  • They can, Don. In the late 80’s we (USDA) had a BASIC program that drew maps of South Carolina based on insect trap counts. We could reconfigure the maps to show the best insect control ideas.
    Not a great leap from showing a count of insects to showing a count of people.

  • Very interesting.
    I’m sure this has been considered but I’m curious: How will this pass muster with the Voting Rights Act when formerly majority-black districts are eliminated or at the least altered?

  • As a federal enactment the Voting Rights Act takes precedence over state law and must be fully complied with before the state criteria come into play.

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