Democrats are usually viewed as the innocent victims of partisan gerrymandering. They shouldn’t be. In Maryland, Democrats are responsible for distorting representation in congress and rigging the system in their party’s favor. Last Wednesday, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Benisek v. Lamone to decide whether Democratic gerrymandering in Maryland was unconstitutional.
In 2012, Maryland Republicans won 33 percent of statewide votes in 2012, but only 12 percent of Maryland’s seats in congress. Under oath, former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley (D) said “It was certainly my hope, and it was part of my intent” to make it so voters would “be more likely to elect a Democrat than a Republican.” This had profound negative consequences for conservative representation in Maryland.
As important as this case is, we are unlikely to see the public outrage from progressives and their Democratic allies that we saw last year for a related case, Gill v. Whitford. Both cases could have a profound impact on the future of redistricting policy. Benisek v. Lamone asks the justices if it was unconstitutional for Democrats to redraw a congressional district in Maryland so they could boot the Republicans who had won previously. The Supreme Court has suggested that partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional but they’ve never had a state redraw their lines.
Democrats in Maryland clearly rigged the system. They cut reliably Republican districts out of their 6th Congressional District, and added the more Democratic DC suburbs to the district. As a result, Republican representative Roscoe Bartlett was trounced in the new district’s 2012 election by his Democratic opponent.
Democrats in charge of redistricting in Maryland intentionally minimized the value of Republican votes in the state. And this is not the only state in which Democrats have rigged the system – Massachusetts and Illinois are other examples of the democratic political establishment picking voters and drawing lines in their favor. Republicans may have been more successful in manipulating district lines nationwide in their favor, but it remains a bipartisan problem.
Thankfully, we’re beginning to see real reform emerge on this issue. With the landmark case Gill v. Whitford, as well as partisan congressional maps struck down in Pennsylvania and North Carolina, we’re seeing movement towards redistricting laws that are fair and equitable. Nearly three-quarters of Americans across the political spectrum favor the Supreme Court setting limits on partisan gerrymandering.
Entrenched political operatives on both sides of the aisle use partisan gerrymandering to build political power and pick their voters. It is institutionalized corruption. It’s what happens when an antiquated democratic system is manipulated by the political establishment to undermine the will of the people. It is time for us to fix that system. To overhaul redistricting, election, ethics and campaign finance laws so that the people’s interests — not special interests and party politics — is the most powerful interest in government.
Josh Silver is a director and co-founder of Represent.Us, a grassroots anti-corruption campaign dedicated to stopping political bribery, ending secret money, and fixing broken elections.