Redistricting Reform Testimony

Redistricting Reform Testimony

I am here tonight to speak about trust. Trust in our democratic institutions. Trust in our elected officials. And trust in justice.

A vibrant and healthy democracy requires that an informed public be actively engaged in the selection of its representatives. Exercising your right to vote is the most fundamental right granted to citizens in a representative democracy. Each Election Day, voters hold their elected officials accountable for their leadership decisions of the previous term and decide whether to return the incumbents to elected office or whether to replace them with new leadership.

Accountability can be further advanced only in the context of reasonably apportioned districts. Gerrymandered districts disenfranchise Marylanders and contribute to partisan polarization by removing incentives for candidates to appeal to the wider public. Our gerrymandered congressional districts tend to predetermine the outcome of our General Elections, turning our Primary Elections, in many cases, into the de-facto General Election.

As a consequence of the increasing influence of the Primary Election on the electoral process, I would like to state my support of an Open Primary System similar to that practiced in California today that would enable the top vote getters in the Primary to proceed to the General Election even if they be of the same political party.

With voter turnout at record low rates, many have been left scratching their heads as to how we might increase voter participation in our democracy. It is my suspicion that rates of voter turnout can be increased, especially in off-year (non-presidential) gubernatorial primary elections, by conveying to voters that their vote matters, that their vote will be counted, and consequently that their voice matters and their government is truly one that is representative of the people.

Legislative Action Items:
·      Empower the independent, non-partisan Department of Legislative Services (or create an independent Redistricting Commission) with the authority to redistrict legislative districts based upon population shifts as recorded in the U.S. Census.
o   An independent Commission would restore confidence in our electoral system, providing guidance to other bodies regarding the spirit of our governing decisions
o   Recently the Montgomery County Board of Elections decided to close two Early Voting Centers that are located in heavily Democratic districts.  Many in our community suspect that this decision is retribution for unfairly drawn legislative districts that favor Democrats. An independent Redistricting Commission would quite possibly have the positive externality of restoring faith and confidence in our Democratic processes.

There have been concerns expressed that the legislation that I propose should be introduced at the federal level, and indeed Representative Chris Van Hollen has introduced a piece of legislation in the US Congress that would address some of these issues. Unfortunately, there is very little prospect of passing such legislation in our current, hyper-polarized Congress (which incidentally is very much the product of these corrupted processes). These concerns are based in the argument that the Democratic Party in Maryland will lose seats in the Congressional Delegation if legislative districts are drawn by a non partisan entity, while Republicans continue to benefit from gerrymandering in other states. This is likely a realistic concern if redistricting were to become a non-partisan process.

There are proposals that would address these concerns, including but not limited to a cross-state collaborative partnership with the Virginia General Assembly, which has a Republican dominated congressional delegation that would likely lose seats to Democrats if they were to have their districts drawn in a non-partisan manner.

That said, there comes a time when our elected officials must do what is right and lead from the front. The time is now to redistrict in a non-partisan manner. Thank you.