Maryland lawmakers override Hogan's congressional map veto

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ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — The Maryland General Assembly voted Thursday to override Gov. Larry Hogan's veto of a redrawn Maryland congressional map, but the governor said the new boundaries make “a mockery of our democracy” and will be challenged in court.

Politicians across the U.S. this year have been gerrymandering — drawing districts that either pack voters of the opposing party into a few districts or split them among multiple ones to dilute their influence. Republicans have done so in such states as Georgia and Texas and Democrats have done it in Illinois and Oregon.

Democrats who control the legislature in Maryland said the map is an improvement over the current one, which has long been criticized for sprawling, gerrymandered districts favoring their party. They say the district lines will be cleaner, more compact, and keep a significant portion of Marylanders in their current districts.

“The bottom line is this was a transparent, fair process," said Sen. Craig Zucker, a Montgomery County Democrat, just before the Senate overrode the veto.

But Hogan said the new lines for the state’s eight U.S. House seats are drawn even more unfairly.

“This is not the end of the process,” Hogan said, before signing the veto at a desk. “This is just the beginning. The courts will be the final arbiter, not the partisan legislature. These maps cannot and will not stand.”

In a state where Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-1, Democrats currently hold a 7-1 advantage over the GOP in the state’s U.S. House delegation. The map approved by lawmakers would likely maintain that advantage and potentially enable Democrats to go 8-0.

Some of the most closely watched changes affect the 1st Congressional District, which includes the Eastern Shore and is now represented by Republican Rep. Andy Harris. The change to what is now a strongly Republican district would add enough registered Democrats to outnumber Republicans, though the district would still be competitive.

The governor, who has long pushed for redistricting reform, had submitted a different proposal developed by a commission he created. He said the three Democrats, three Republicans and three independents on the panel were citizens who took politicians out of the process of drawing maps.

The map that lawmakers supported was approved in a 4-2 vote by a different commission formed by leaders in the General Assembly with six legislators. The panel's four Democrats, including House Speaker Adrienne Jones and Senate President Bill Ferguson, supported the map while the two Republicans, Senate Minority Leader Bryan Simonaire and House Minority Leader Jason Buckel, opposed it.

A grassroots organization called Fair Maps Maryland pledged to take aggressive legal action against the map.

“Make no mistake — this level of gerrymandering is voter suppression," said Doug Mayer, a spokesman for the group who is a former Hogan spokesman. “As a consequence of the legislature’s actions, we have been forced to obtain legal counsel and are currently exploring suits on both the state and federal levels that will prosecute the obvious Voting Rights Act and many other illegal partisan gerrymandering violations.”

A new map of legislative districts for Maryland's 188 seats in the General Assembly will be taken up in the regular session, which begins next month.

The once-a-decade redistricting process happens after the census.