Tag Archives: Maryland

Regional Political Chasm Expands


America in Miniature has very distinct political regions. I’ve divided Maryland into seven here. Republicans eliminated many of the remaining Democratic officeholders in 2014 in three rock-ribbed Republican regions–Western Maryland, Eastern Shore, and Outer Baltimore Bastions. Democrats retain iron grips on the Washington Suburbs and Baltimore City. These areas have very completely different interests and perspective on key issues facing the State.

Among the two remaining regions, Southern Maryland is really divided into two areas moving strongly in opposite directions, which just reinforces the divisions between the other regions. However, the four counties in the Swingy Outer Suburbs constitute the more marginal political territory in Maryland elections. Often up for grabs, Republicans advanced in 2014 through impressive gains in this important region.

Western Maryland

District 1 and 2 are located entirely within Garrett, Allegany, and Washington counties, and both will send entirely Republican delegations to the General Assembly. Their county commissions are also all one-party affairs. Hogan won between 75% and 80% of the vote in these three counties.

Eastern Shore

The Eastern Shore contains nine counties: Cecil, Kent, Queen Anne’s Dorchester, Caroline, Talbot, Somerset, Wicomico, and Worcester. Districts 35A, 36, 37, and 38 are located on the shore (the rest of D35 includes northern Cecil and will be discussed with Harford.) Unsurprisingly, Hogan did well here, taking between 65% and 80% of the vote in the nine Eastern Shore counties.

(Corrections made to this paragraph.) The Shore’s General Assembly delegation is heavily Republican. Majority-black District 37A’s sole delegate is the only Democratic delegate as compared to nine Republicans. Thanks to the political talent of Sen. Jim Mathias, the Democrats also hold one of the Shore’s three Senate seats. Republicans also dominate country government with 34 commission or council seats to just 11 for the Democrats.

Republicans hold all seats on the commissions or councils of Cecil, Queen Anne’s, Caroline, and Talbot Counties. They also form majorities in Wicomico and Worcester Counties. Democrats hang on to majority status by a single seat in Dorchester, Kent, and Somerset Counties–three of the Shore’s smaller counties.

Baltimore City

All six senators and sixteen delegates from the City are Republicans Democrats (Districts 40, 41, 43, 45, and 46 in their entirety as well as District 44A). The Democrats sweep city elections with similar regularity. Hogan won 22% of the vote in the City–not too bad really for a statewide Republican candidate.

Washington Suburbs

Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties are the two other large Democratic bastions. Together they contribute 16 senators and 47 delegates to the Democratic majorities in the General Assembly (Districts 14-27, 39, 47 but 27C is completely outside of Prince George’s). Democrats also easily mop up the seats on both county councils. Hogan received 37% of the vote in Montgomery but only 15% in Prince George’s.

Southern Maryland

The three counties of southern Maryland have been trending in two different directions. While growth, particularly that related to the Navy, has tilted Calvert and St. Mary’s increasingly Republican, growing African-American suburbanization has pushed Charles in the other direction.

Democrats now control the senator and three delegates from Charles (District 28) and hold all county offices. On the other hand, Republicans hold the one senator and four delegates elected entirely from St. Mary’s and Calvert (District 29 and District 27C), as well as completely dominate county offices. Hogan won 69% in Calvert and 73% in St. Mary’s. Though Hogan lost Charles, he showed surprising strength at 47% in a county that has gone for the Democrats by steadily increasing margins.

Swingy Outer Suburbs

Anne Arundel, Baltimore County, Frederick and Howard are  key pivots in state elections. All went for Hogan–52% in Howard, 59% in Baltimore County, 64% in Frederick, and 66% in Anne Arundel. All have mixed representation on their county councils with Howard heavily Democratic, Baltimore leaning Democratic, Anne Arundel leaning Republican, and Frederick heavily Republican. Republicans hold county executive seats in Anne Arundel and Howard while Democrats claim Baltimore County and Frederick.

Many of the more competitive elections for the General Assembly occur in these four counties, though there are also several solid legislative districts for each party. (Districts 3-4 in Frederick, Districts 6, 8, 10, 11, 42 and 44B in Baltimore, Districts 9, 12, 13 in Howard, District 30-33 in Anne Arundel.)

While Democrats lead 10-5 in Senate seats, they hold a smaller margin of 15-13 in House seats for these counties. Republicans picked up a several seats that Democrats had hoped to take in this region in 2014. Republicans have to continue to do well in these areas if they hope to make inroads in Maryland. All four counties have been moving towards the Democrats in presidential contests.

Outer Baltimore Bastions

Carroll and Harford Counties are Republican dream lands. Hogan was 82% in Carroll and 77% in Harford. Republicans control all county council seats in both places, as well as the executive in Harford.

Republicans now control all but one General Assembly seat, sending four senators and ten delegates to augment the GOP Caucuses. One Democratic delegate hangs on in District 34A. (District 5 is entirely within Carroll and 34 within Harford. District 7 straddles the Baltimore-Harford line but resembles Harford politically. District 35B is split between Cecil and Harford with 35A in Cecil.)


Competition and Responsiveness in Redistricting

In previous posts, I’ve contended that Maryland’s extremely non-compact districts are nonetheless less skewed to the Democrats than many think. Moreover, compactness and non-partisan maps don’t necessarily result in fair outcomes.

Today, I look at the role of redistricting in promoting competition and responsiveness. The argument in favor rests on the idea that competition is the lifeblood of democracy. It helps voters keep politicians accountable. When voters swing away from one party and to another, the results should reflect the change.

It may seem odd to take into account whether a plan creates competitive districts. However, the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission operates under a mandate to prioritize them. It would also potentially result in greater shifts in House seats with changes in the vote for the U.S. House.

Not all agree that competition and responsiveness are a good thing. Tom Brunell has provocatively argued that mapmakers should create as many ultra-safe districts as possible. He points out that fewer voters cast ballots for the losing candidate–and therefore are happier with the outcome–in safe districts.

Let’s work with the other side of the argument, as I suspect more prefer responsiveness to changes in voting behavior rather than static outcomes no matter the election results. How well does Maryland’s current plan promote competition (i.e. close elections) or responsiveness (i.e. changes in seats won with changes in voting behavior)?

Not well. In 2012. the closest race was in the Sixth where challenge John Delaney ousted incumbent Rep. Roscoe Bartlett by 21 points. The next closest race was in the Eighth where Rep. Chris Van Hollen won reelection from his redrawn district by over 30 points.

If Republicans have a problem with the map, it should not be that it is inherently unfair. After all, if Maryland Republican candidates could win one-half of the votes, they likely carry one-half of the seats. Nevertheless, the plan doesn’t look likely to respond to less major changes in the electorate.

Below is a rough draft of a plan that reflects the Democratic edge but is likely to be more responsive to changes in electoral outcomes:

LublinPlan1More Competitive Congressional Redistricting Plan

President Obama won a majority in 2008 in seven of the eight districts. However, his victory level was not nearly as high in several of the districts as under the current plan:

MDCompIn this plan, the Republicans would need a shift of only 1.9% to gain the Third District and 3.0% to gain the Sixth District. One can imagine regular heated competition for both districts with them changing hands depending on the vicissitudes of the electorate.

This plan would also be far more compact and violate fewer county boundaries than the current plan. The 1st would contain the entire Eastern Shore along with Harford and a bit of northern Baltimore County. It does not cross the Bay Bridge. The Seventh, a 54% black voting-age population district, would include all of Baltimore City along with a chunk of neighboring Baltimore County.

The new 2nd would take in the remainder of Baltimore County along with a bit of neighboring Carroll. The 8th is entirely in Montgomery County. The 6th includes all of western Maryland along with almost all of the rest of Montgomery. The 4th, a 61% black VAP district, is almost entirely in northern Prince George’s.

Finally, the 5th is composed of southern Maryland, the rest of Prince George’s and southern Anne Arundel. The 3rd becomes a central Maryland district with all of Howard, northern Anne Arundel and most of Carrol Counties.

The major problem with this plan is that is most likely too favorable to the Republicans. A gain of 7.8% of the vote would allow the GOP to win one-half of the districts even though they would fall far short of the vote share required for an even statewide split.

They might even win all four with an even smaller percentage as the new versions of the 2nd, 3rd, and 6th contain above average shares of white voters. This matters because whites are more likely to shift way from the Democrats when a pro-Republican wind blows than black voters, who are highly concentrated in the 4th and 7th.

So greater competition and responsiveness not always conducive to partisan fairness. However, one might be able to construct a plan that better meets both requirements, though that could result in less compact districts.



Compactness in Redistricting

When people refer to geographical compactness, they refer to districts of sensible shape. Why does this matter? First, odd shapes can indicate gerrymandering. Second, the idea of single-member districts is grounded in the representation of territorially organized communities where each area has its representative, though many dispute this idea of community.

One common compactness measure, usually referenced as the Reock or Dispersion measure, is the ratio of the area of a district to the area of the smallest circle that can enclose the district:


Reock or Dispersion Measure of Compactness

The idea behind the measure is that a circle is the most compact shape, so it compares the district to the smallest circle that can encompass it. As the name indicates, it is viewed as a good measure of the dispersion of the area of a district.

Another widely used compactness measure is the ratio of the area of a district to the area of a circle with the same perimeter as the district (the Polsby-Popper or Perimeter measure):


Polsby-Popper or Perimeter Measure

This measure tends to give low (i.e. worse) scores to districts with many crinkles in their boundaries and that are elongated in ways that stretch their boundaries but encompass little territory. In contrast, districts with smooth boundaries that maximize the area enclosed score well.

Complaints about both measures include that one cannot draw only circular districts and that state boundaries are not circular. For this reason, it is important to compare district scores to other districts and especially other plans for districts in the same state.

A final compactness measure is the Grofman Interocular Test. Developed by my humorous friend and sometime coauthor, Bernie Grofman, it’s his way of asking does “evidence of gerrymandering leap up and hit you in the eyeballs.” Rather like Justice Stewart said about pornography, gerrymandeirng can be hard to define but you know it when you see it.

Closely related to compactness are the ideas of contiguity and adherence to administrative boundaries. Contiguity is simply that one could, at least in theory, travel from any point in a district to any other point without leaving the district. A stricter version might require that one can travel in practice without having to cross into another district.

Federal law now requires that congressional districts be contiguous in the looser sense. In recent times, some districts have stretched the principle thinly with point contiguity, which is when districts remain connected at just one point.

Others value adherence to administrative boundaries, such as county and municipal lines, as helping preserve natural communities of interest. Of course, like districts, the boundaries of these units are drawn by people and not truly natural.

Maryland’s districts unquestionably fail any test for compactness. I’m including maps here of four of the eight districts to do the artistry of the plan full justice:

CD2Maryland’s Second Congressional District

CD3Maryland’s Third Congressional District

CD4Maryland’s Fourth Congressional District

CD8Maryland’s Eighth Congressional District

Maryland’s eight districts had the lowest average compactness score of any in the nation, according to both the Dispersion and Perimeter measures.

All four of the above districts are contiguous but very thinly at some points. The 8th has a small link south of Laytonsville to connect the very Democratic southern Montgomery with heavily Republican areas in Frederick and Carroll in a manner that benefits Democrats.

In order to let Rep. Steny Hoyer in the 5th keep areas he desired in northwest Prince George’s around College Park, the 4th skirts narrowly around the edges of Prince George’s and Anne Arundel. This corridor connects heavily black and Democratic areas in Prince George’s to very Republican parts of Anne Arundel. The overall district is a black-majority Democratic seat.

Some have claimed that the 3rd in the least compact district in the country. It certainly gives others a run for their money, as it snakes around the State to take in parts of four counties and Baltimore City. Narrow corridors connect three discrete sections of Baltimore City and County.

The district then meanders west to take in a contiguous chunk of south Howard and northeast Montgomery before arcing through Anne Arundel. It has to jump across water to maintain contiguity with Annapolis and at other points. Apparently, Rep. Sarbanes wanted to keep representing that city.

I think the 2nd may be my personal favorite. Narrow corridors allow it to take in separate portions of Baltimore County before crawling up the coast to take in the most Democratic portions of Howard. It then wanders into Baltimore City and cuts across the harbor on its way to Anne Arundel.

It’s easy to ascribe the non-compact shapes to partisanship. However, the shapes stem even more from the desire to satisfy certain Democratic incumbents–primarily Cummings, Hoyer, Ruppersberger, and Sarbanes–from the look of the map.

Several of these incumbents live close to each other in the Baltimore area  even as population and political power has shifted away to other portions of the State. Baltimore City is now too small for even one congressional district. Yet it still has three.

In the next post, I examine why, just like among people, pretty isn’t always fair in redistricting.



Congressional Plan Fairer Than You Think

CDMD2012 Congressional District Map

Redistricting remains one of the more contentious if arcane subjects in American politics. Unlike in many other western democracies with single-member district elections, such as Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom, the U.S. still usually allows politicians to draw both congressional and state legislative districts.

Some advocate that states ought to construct plans that are fair to Democrats and Republicans. And Maryland’s congressional plan has been attacked as unfair to Republicans not only by the GOP but by other observers, such as St. Mary’s College Professor Todd Eberly.

But how do you measure partisan fairness? Here are two basic principles that some see as underlining a fair plan that does not favor one party over the other along with an assessment of how well Maryland’s current plan lives up to them:

(1) No Partisan Bias. This principle is the simple idea that a party should win 50% of the seats if it wins 50% of the votes. Note that this is not the same as proportionality–that a party wins the same share of seats as votes.

There are different ways of testing for partisan bias. Examining the vote of statewide candidates in different districts is one simple way to test plans (not necessarily the best but easy to comprehend). The advantage of statewide candidates is that one can assess party performance with the same two candidates across all districts.

In this example, I use the presidential race. As is well known, Obama carried seven of the eight current districts in 2008. The two-party vote in each congressional district is shown in the first two columns:


Obama’s average vote share was 63.1%. But what if there was a uniform swing across all district of 13.1% towards McCain? Under this scenario, Obama and McCain would each have averaged 50.0% of the vote (see columns 3 and 4). Interestingly, each would also have carried four districts–exactly 50% of the total.

So the current plan passes a simple and cursory bias test. When each party receives 50% of the vote, each should win 4 districts.

(2) Symmetry reflects that if one party gains 65% of the seats with 55% of the votes, so should the other party. In single-member plurality elections, a party often gains a seat bonus when it wins more than a majority. This principle encapsulates the idea that such a bonus should be symmetrical and equal for both parties.

How symmetrical in Maryland’s plan? Again, examining the presidential vote is illuminating. In the example, below I envision a uniform swing across districts to estimate how many districts McCain would have won if he had received 63.1%–the share Obama actually won in the election.


The table suggests that McCain would have carried six districts–one less than Obama carried with the same share of the vote. So the plan is not perfectly symmetrical. The two black-majority districts (4 and 7) contain so many Democratic voters that even a Republican tsunami would not turn them blue, though the 7th comes close.

Examining the data in the table closely further suggests that Republicans would need only an additional 2.5% of the vote to carry all eight districts. However, Democrats would not achieve the same feat if they received the same vote share.

In truth, it can be very hard to construct plans free of bias and perfectly symmetrical. Moreover, swings are rarely uniform and the geographical concentration of partisans can shift over time. Of course, that also doesn’t mean we can’t often do better.

This at-first-glance examination also indicates that moaning about the partisan unfairness of the plan is not necessarily justified even though the plan was crafted by Democrats and one assumes designed to achieve their ends.

Complaints about the plan probably need to focus more on other issues. Next, I examine compactness–one of the major criticisms of Maryland’s redistricting plan.


Partisan Breakdown of County Governments


Pre-2014 Election County Executives and Councils

Maryland has fewer subdivisions than almost any other state with just 23 counties and one independent city. Except Baltimore City, all elect their legislatures–Councils or Commission–at the same time as the gubernatorial election. Starting in 2016, Baltimore’s City will be in sync with the presidential election cycle.

Besides legislatures, eight counties with home rule charters directly elect a county executive, functionally equivalent to that of mayor–the title given to Baltimore City’s executive. Frederick County’s voters approved its charter in 2012 and will elect its first county executive this year.

The above table shows the pre-2014 election partisan breakdown of county executives and legislatures for all counties and Baltimore City, highlighting one party counties based on the party of the legislature with red indicating Republican and blue Democratic counties .

Nine have only Republican legislatures (and executives): Allegany, Calvert, Caroline, Carroll, Cecil, Frederick, Garrett, Queen Anne’s, and Washington. Four are solidly Democratic: Baltimore City, Charles, Montgomery, and Prince George’s.

Most Republican counties are small, though Calvert, Carroll, Frederick, and Queen Anne’s are fast-growing exurbs. Calvert, Carroll and Queen Anne’s are all solidly Republican, though more overwhelmingly in Carroll than Calvert or Queen Anne’s. Frederick leans Republican but has been moving towards the Democrats. Whether the trend will continue strongly enough to push the County away from the GOP remains to be seen.

Three counties and Baltimore City sit in the Democratic camp. All are overwhelmingly Democratic with Republicans having next to no chance.  In Prince George’s, only one Republican has so far filed for a Council seat. Democrats would still hold a bare majority on the Montgomery Council even if every Republican candidate won. Republicans have filed for only two seats on the Charles Commission.

The remaining eleven counties have split councils or commissions, though many lean heavily to either the Democrats or the Republicans. Harford, St. Mary’s, Talbot, Wicomico, and Worcester list towards the Republicans, while Baltimore County and Howard favor the Democrats. Anne Arundel leans GOP but seems increasingly marginal for a place expected once to be a Republican bastion.

Due to the plentiful rural Republican counties, there are 75 Republican legislators compared to 65 Democrats in very blue Maryland. Must make politics for officer elections at the Maryland Association of Counties (MACO) interesting.