Maryland Congressional Districts May be Most Gerrymandered in Nation

December 29, 2011

Maryland officials constantly tout the state’s top schools and most educated workforce, but it may have a more dubious distinction – the least compact and most gerrymandered congressional districts in the nation.

Some of Maryland’s less compact districts, shown on Avazea’s “Redistricting the Nation” website.

Azavea, a geographic information systems firm in Philadelphia, has been calculating the compactness of congressional districts across the country using what is known as the Polsby-Popper ratio. This measures the area of the district to the area of the circle whose circumference is equal to the perimeter of the district.

Out of the 28 states that have finalized congressional maps, the national average is 0.231, according to Daniel McGlone, a GIS analyst with the firm. Maryland’s average is “a mere 0.1225,” he said.

“The state has only one district more compact than the national average,” McGlone said. That is the 5th Congressional District in Southern Maryland, represented by House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer.

The least compact congressional district is Maryland’s 3rd, represented by John Sarbanes, singled out by a federal three-judge panel in an opinion last week. It scored a lowly .0333.

“In form, the original Massachusetts Gerrymander looks tame by comparison, as this is more reminiscent of a broken-winged pterodactyl, lying prostrate across the center of the state,” Appellate Judge Paul Neimeyer wrote in his opinion.

Judge Roger Titus called it “a Rorschach-like eyesore.”

The Azavea scores for the other districts were: CD-2, Dutch Ruppersberger, .0634; CD-6, Roscoe Bartlett, .0764; CD-8, Chris Van Hollen, .0875; CD- 4, Donna Edwards, .0934; CD-1, Andy Harris, .1591; and CD-5, Hoyer, .3049. All but Bartlett and Harris are Democrats.

“Maryland may very well take the prize for the least compact districts in the next congressional election,” McGlone observed.

The Maryland districts score poorly in three other ratios of compactness, with 75% of them finding a place in the nation’s 10 worst, according to Redistricting the Nation.

Maryland’s odd geography, split by the Chesapeake Bay and its major tributaries may contribute to the poor scores. But McGlone used maps from the Maryland Planning Department showing the Bay and the Potomac River split down the middle, and not following every nook and cranny of the bay’s inlets.

Azavea produces the maps as part of its Cicero database that is used by nonprofits and advocacy groups to help their members identify their local legislators. The firm also produced a white paper called “The Gerrymandering Index” in 2006, after the previous round of redistricting.

—Len Lazarick

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