How Democrats Gerrymandered Their Way to Victory in Maryland

In spring 2011, the six Democratic members of Maryland’s congressional delegations tasked Eric Hawkins with two key jobs: Draw new district lines that get us re-elected easily for another five terms, while also taking direct aim at the state’s last two Republicans.

Behind closed doors, Democratic insiders and high-ranking aides referred to it as “the 7-1 map.” Hawkins—an analyst at a Beltway data firm called NCEC Services—not only made it happen, but imagined an 8-0 map that might have shut Republicans out of power altogether. That, however, would have required spreading Democratic voters a little too thin and made some incumbents slightly less safe; these congressmen were partisans, sure, but they were also reluctant to risk their own seats.

New court depositions and previously unseen emails uncover just how determined Maryland Democrats were to take a seat from the Republicans and knock 10-term veteran Roscoe Bartlett—an idiosyncratic conservative who after losing his seat retired off the grid in the mountains of West Virginia, issuing dire warnings about the vulnerability of our power grid—out of office. They also reveal the partisanship with which Democrats approached redistricting in Maryland: As former governor and 2016 Democratic presidential primary candidate Martin O’Malley explains, he and other Democrats wanted to use their party’s control of the governor’s office to secure a  7-1 majority.

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“Yes,” said O’Malley, in a deposition. “Part of my intent was to create a map that, all things being legal and equal, would, nonetheless, be more likely to elect more Democrats rather than less.”

Nationally, Republicans not only dominated the decennial redistricting that followed the 2010 census, but reinvented the partisan gerrymander. The GOP executed a strategy called REDMAP, short for Redistricting Majority Project. They successfully targeted control of state legislative chambers in Pennsylvania,…

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