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Maryland State Senator Proposes Independent, Multi-Member Congressional Districts

by Greg Parker, published

Maryland state Senator Jamie Raskin is at the forefront of the state's efforts to end partisan gerrymandering and enact fundamental election reform. In a state that has been called one of the most gerrymandered in the nation, and during a time when partisan politics increasingly incentivize the manipulation of district lines, Raskin believes this type of legislative action is sorely needed.

Senator Raskin recently introduced the Potomac Compact for Fair Representation bill to establish an interstate agreement for electoral reform across both Maryland and Virginia, states that are political opposites of each other. Maryland has a Republican governor and Democratic legislature, while Virginia has a Democratic governor and Republican legislature.

This plan seeks a creative compromise between the parties by creating independent redistricting commissions across both states. These commissions would be empowered to create larger congressional districts from which multiple candidates could be elected.

“Everybody hates gerrymandering, but there is not a lot of clarity about what exactly the problem is,” Senator Raskin said in an interview with IVN.

“The media likes to focus on the aesthetic of imperfectly drawn, non-geometric figures. But the real harm being done is the way we design congressional delegations that are not fairly reflective of the political will of the people of the state. That’s the real offense taking place.” - State Sen. Jamie Raskin

If the multi-member district method is adopted, the hope is that fair and proportional representation would be more likely. In a district that elects two representatives, for example, the majority of voters would always elect a seat. However, a candidate who wins 45% of the vote would also have the chance to win a seat.

This process would do away with the monopoly that a party could have on representation in any given area.

The idea came about when Raskin looked at the legislatures for Maryland and Virginia and saw the partisan gridlock in place.

“Nobody does anything about gerrymandering because the party in power has the means to make a change, but no incentive to do so, and the party out of power has the incentive to make a change but no means to do so,” he explained.

According to Raskin, this plan would ensure that both states, which are politically mirror images of each other, are serious about fair, proportional representation.

“The stars are aligned here to do something about it. I believe we need to think beyond Maryland’s borders and look at interstate solutions to make real progress. No one wants to be the first state for unilateral reform.”

In response to Governor Hogan’s recent proposal to implement a 9-member independent redistricting commission in Maryland (3 Republicans, 3 Democrats, and 3 independents), Senator Raskin remarked that “Maryland is unlikely to want to pass his plan alone."

"Beyond the fact that my plan is more politically feasible, I think it’s also a better plan because it identifies what the real issues are. The problem is not the shape of the districts, the problem is the distribution of seats in the delegation once the districting is done.” - State Sen. Jamie Raskin

He believes that gerrymandering can represent a challenge to all Americans to rise above party politics and devise creative solutions.

“A lot of people have become cynical and jaded about the possibility of any structural democratic reform,” he said. “But I don’t feel that way. I’ve been part of historic changes in our state, including restoration of voting rights for ex-felons, the National Popular Vote Plan, and compulsory disclosure of independent expenditures. The Maryland General Assembly is a smart legislature that will understand this plan.”

Raskin's bill has a scheduled Senate hearing on March 3, 2016.

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