Revisiting the Constitution of 1967
A lot has been said about the Governor Larry Hogan’s effort to end redistricting. The Governor’s Redistricting Reform Commission proposal included a lot of great ideas and should have already been passed, except for the Democratic House and Senate Leadership’s insistence on blocking any reform proposal in an effort to keep a hold of monopoly on legislative power.
However it may be worth taking a step back to the take a look at some of what has been proposed before.
The Maryland General Assembly authorized a Constitutional Convention in 1967 for the purpose of writing a new, modern constitution. The Convention did just that. The document, however, never went into effect because it was rejected by voters during the primary election in 1968, keeping the Constitution of 1967 in place.
That Constitution had interesting ideas on the composition of the General Assembly, its Districts, and how redistricting, but the most compelling of these regarding the Composition of the Assembly and the Districts themselves:
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Section 3.03. Composition of the General Assembly.
The number of members of each house of the General Assembly shall be prescribed by law, but the number of delegates shall not exceed one hundred twenty and the number of senators shall be one-third the number of delegates. Only one delegate shall represent a delegate district and only one senator shall represent a senate district. Each senate district shall consist of three whole delegate districts.
Section 3.04. Legislative Districts.
The State shall be divided by law into districts for the election of members of the Senate. Each senate district shall be sub-divided into three districts for the election of members of the House of Delegates. The population represented by each senator shall be substantially equal, as shall the population represented by each delegate. Each district shall consist of adjoining territory and be compact in form. Due regard shall be given to natural boundaries and the boundaries of political subdivisions. Boundaries of districts shall be redrawn according to these standards prior to the general election in 1982 and in every tenth year thereafter.
As far back as 1967, leaders in the state of Maryland saw the need for single member districts in the House of Delegates.While the Constitutional Convention saw it fit to require single member districts, the General Assembly did not. In 1972 the current Constitution was amended to include the language that currently governs membership and legislative districts:
SEC. 2. The membership of the Senate shall consist of forty-seven (47) Senators. The membership of the House of Delegates shall consist of one hundred forty-one (141) Delegates (amended by Chapter 469, Acts of 1900, ratified Nov. 5, 1901; Chapter 7, Acts of 1922, ratified Nov. 7, 1922; Chapter 99, Acts of 1956, ratified Nov. 6, 1956; Chapter 785, Acts of 1969, ratified Nov. 3, 1970; Chapter 363, Acts of 1972, ratified Nov. 7, 1972).
SEC. 3. The State shall be divided by law into legislative districts for the election of members of the Senate and the House of Delegates. Each legislative district shall contain one (1) Senator and three (3) Delegates. Nothing herein shall prohibit the subdivision of any one or more of the legislative districts for the purpose of electing members of the House of Delegates into three (3) single-member delegate districts or one (1) single-member delegate district and one (1) multi-member delegate district (repealed by Chapter 99, Acts of 1956, ratified Nov. 6, 1956; added by Chapter 785, Acts of 1969, ratified Nov. 3, 1970; Chapter 363, Acts of 1972, ratified Nov. 7, 1972).
These amendments were required in the wake of the Reynolds v. Sims case that required that state legislative districts be proportional across the board. Prior to that case, State Senate apportionment was modeled more along the lines of the U.S. Senate:
The elections of 1838 effected the first major reform of the Senate. Voters ratified numerous Constitutional amendments regulating the geographic distribution of Senate seats, a process which had been overrun by economic, social and political biases. The electoral college was abolished and, for the first time, voters chose their senators. Twenty-one senators were elected; one from each county and Baltimore City. Senatorial terms expanded to six years, and a rotational election system was established so that only a third of the senators stood for election every two years. The amendments also abolished the Governor’s Council (Chapter 197, Acts of 1836, secs. 2, 3, 13). Nonetheless, to this day, the Senate still functions as the Governor’s Council when it confirms or rejects appointments made by the governor.
Despite the political turmoil of the mid-nineteenth century, in Maryland, the Senate experienced only minor changes. The Constitution of 1851 reduced senators’ terms to four years, while the Constitution of 1864 divided Baltimore City into three legislative districts, each with its own senator. The Senate was left untouched by the Constitution of 1867, and would remain so for nearly a century.
This means as recently as 1972 there were only 26 members of the Maryland State Senate, not 47.
The idea of reforming the State Senate and the Maryland House of Delegates has a great deal of merit. By reducing the number of State Senators, Senators would be forced to consider the implications of their votes and their actions on a larger area of our state. If coupled with single member districts, reducing the number of Delegates would not have a negligible impact on most communities; in many cases, legislative districts would still be smaller and serve a smaller number of constituents than they currently do in larger, multi-member districts.
Maryland’s General Assembly, as currently constituted, is abnormally large for a state of its size. Wisconsin has a comparable population, but their legislature consists of only 33 Senators and 99 Assembly Members. Our neighbor, Virginia, has a much larger population than we do but their legislature consists of 40 Senators and 100 delegates. Even California, our largest state in population, has a legislature that includes only 40 Senators and 80 members of the assembly.
There would also be a cost savings to reducing the size of the General Assembly. Each member of the General Assembly makes $43,500 a year in base salary. That does not include per diem money and expenses. If the state reduced reduced the size of the Senate from 47 members to 35, and if they reduced the size of the House of Delegates from 141 to 105, that would save the State of Maryland over $2,000,000 a year.
Perhaps this is the Constitutional Amendment that Maryland needs:
SEC. 2. The membership of the Senate shall consist of forty-seven (47) THIRTY-FIVE (35) Senators. The membership of the House of Delegates shall consist of one hundred forty-one (141) THIRTY-FIVE (135) Delegates.
SEC. 3. The State shall be divided by law into legislative districts for the election of members of the Senate and the House of Delegates. Each legislative district shall contain one (1) Senator and three (3) Delegates. Nothing herein shall prohibit the subdivision of any one or more of the legislative districts for the purpose of electing members of the House of Delegates into three (3) single-member delegate districts or one (1) single-member delegate district and one (1) multi-member delegate district. EACH SENATE DISTRICT SHALL BE SUB-DIVIDED INTO THREE DISTRICTS FOR THE ELECTION OF MEMBERS OF THE HOUSE OF DELEGATES.
Maybe the solution to our problems in Annapolis includes not just reforming our redistricting, but proactively working to Shrink Annapolis.