The legal watchdog group Judicial Watch filed a lawsuit Wednesday challenging how Maryland handles elections in the hopes of fixing the national problem of gerrymandering.
“Maryland is not the only state but it’s certainly the worst,” Thomas Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, told reporters at a press conference. “This should serve as a warning to other states.”
Gerrymandering occurs when the borders of an electoral district are manipulated in order to change the outcome of an election. It has been used by politicians across the political spectrum but also recognized as a problem by both sides as well. It has been used to change the outcome of both local and national elections.
“It harms voters of all parties,” Fitton went onto say. “This has a nasty impact on voters of all stripes.”
Previous attempts to fix gerrymandering, however, have proven to do very little. Though Judicial Watch is not the first to attempt to fix it through a lawsuit, the group notes its approach will allow courts to look at the problem differently.
“This is a very different legal theory,” Fitton noted. “Our lawsuit provides a way for the courts to approach this.”
The primary reason that past reforms have failed is its often difficult to set a standard for which it is clear the shape of a district was manipulated. Though there are clear examples of manipulation, the standard must be equally applied even when it’s not so clear. By focusing on a mathematical system known as the “compactness” scale, Judicial Watch hopes to open up a new way for courts to look at the problem.
“This scale is a mathematical test of a shape’s compactness,” the lawsuit noted. “Social scientists discussing or testifying about district compactness routinely utilize this measure, and courts routinely accept its use. Most redistricting software used by state legislatures will automatically calculate each district.”
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of voters in each of Maryland’s congressional districts and alleges that the state electoral map was drawn in a way that violates the U.S. Constitution. In the case of Maryland, the lawsuit puts a significant amount of blame on former Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, for signing a law in 2011 that changes the state districts. At the time, however, O’Malley defended the new map as fair but did recognize it wasn’t perfect.
“I’ve never been through a redistricting process that is not disruptive and controversial,” he said according to The Baltimore Sun.
“You really can’t have equal representation without compactness,” Robert Popper, a senior attorney for Judicial Watch, argued.
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