By: Zach Allentuck
The Washington Post called it the “second-most gerrymandered” district. Its shape is comical and unwieldly. It has been compared to a praying mantis. This is Maryland’s 3rd Congressional District. Yet, when the topic of gerrymandering in Maryland arises, Maryland’s 6th Congressional District receives an outsized amount of attention and focus. The focus on the 6th makes some sense; it is the focus of a federal court case. Certainly, from a lawsuit perspective, focusing on a district where the incumbent lost his seat because of gerrymandering makes more sense than a district where the incumbent kept his seat. However, the 3rd is still more gerrymandered, because it is a weirder shape and the margin of victory for Democrats in the 3rd is higher than it is in the 6th. It is good that both the current governor, Larry Hogan, and the former governor, Martin O’Malley, agree that the gerrymandering in Maryland is bad. However, they should speak out about the 3rd specifically, because, as stated before, the 3rd is more gerrymandered, and because it makes more political sense to focus on the 3rd. The two should draw attention specifically to the 3rd.
There is an abundance of evidence showing the 3rd is more gerrymandered than the 6th. When one looks at a map of the 6th, this is evident. The 6th encompasses all of a few counties, whereas the 3rd encompasses small parts of several counties. Additionally, compare the 2014 and 2016 results in the 3rd district, as compared to the 6th district. In the 3rd, the Democratic candidate’s percentage of the vote increased by 4 percentage points, whereas, in the 6th, it increased by 7. Though this increase would lend credence to the idea that the 6th is more gerrymandered, because the Democratic candidate received a higher amount of the vote than previously, the overall amount of the vote the Democratic candidate won in the 3rd in both years is higher than the amount of the vote they won in the 6th in both years. In both elections, the Democratic candidate in the 3rd received 13-14 percentage points more votes than the Democratic candidate did in the 6th. The higher margin of victory for the Democrat indicates that the 3rd is more polarized and gerrymandered.
It also makes sense from a political perspective to draw attention to the 3rd. If Hogan were to only draw attention to the 6th, which is the most competitive in the state, it could easily be viewed as just an attempt on his part to score a partisan political victory, and give his party another seat in Congress. By contrast, if he were to draw attention to the 3rd, which would still likely send a Democrat to Congress even when not gerrymandered, this focus would appear as an actual push for bipartisan reform. This push would only help him in his 2018 re-election campaign to the governor’s office. Changing the 3rd would not give the Republicans another seat, but it would give them more voting power, the chance to more effectively express their views, and force the representative to vote in a more bipartisan manner.
For O’Malley, the politics are more complicated. As the Washington Post noted, O’Malley backed partisan gerrymandering when he was governor. As he is no longer governor, he has nothing to lose for changing his mind and potentially weakening Democratic power in the state. Instead, he has much to gain, as it shores up bipartisan credentials for his potential 2020 presidential campaign. His willingness to decrease his party’s power in a state where his party is overrepresented would be a politically smart choice.
Although the 6th may be the district at issue in the 4th Circuit, the 3rd deserves more attention and should be redrawn. Empirically, the 3rd is far more gerrymandered, and it is a politically smart move for Hogan and O’Malley to draw attention to it. With any hope, the two will draw attention to the 3rd and lead to its redrawing.
(The 3rd district is on the left, and the 6th is on the right)
(The map of the 3rd is from Southern Maryland Online, http://somd.com/news/headlines/2011/14403.php and the 6th is from Wikimedia, taken from nationalatlas.gov