The secret beneficiaries of Maryland’s “No Representation Without Population” Act

by Peter Wagner, December 23, 2010  

With redistricting on the horizon, there have been a number of stories that discuss Maryland’s “No Representation Without Population” Act, passed last April, which will require that incarcerated people be counted at home for redistricting purposes. A number of the stories I read this week make the subtle but critical error of framing the discussion in terms of what Baltimore will gain from the new law at the expense of Western Maryland and the Eastern Shore.

The reality of the bill’s passage was significantly more diverse than the articles imply:

  • The bill’s lead sponsors in both chambers had massive prisons in their districts.
  • The bill passed with bi-partisan support.
  • The bill passed with urban, rural and suburban support.
  • Senators of both parties with large prisons in their districts spoke on the floor about their support for the bill.
  • The Delmarva Daily Times on Maryland’s Eastern Shore editorialized in support of the bill multiple times, calling it a “Victory for Fairness.”

True, the people incarcerated in Maryland’s prisons disproportionately come from Baltimore. But given the number of districts in Baltimore, and the fact that Baltimore itself contains a large prison complex, the impact on any individual district or the city in total will be quite small.

The real winners of the new law are every single person who doesn’t live in District 2B next to a prison with almost 7,000 people temporarily incarcerated there. 18% of this district’s population was actually incarcerated residents from other parts of the state. Padding district 2B with the massive prison population meant that every group of 82 people near the prison could exercise the same political power as 100 people in any other district. That’s one of the injustices solved by the new law.

If you don’t live in District 2B, the “No Representation Without Population” Act is a big win for you. (And that’s not even addressing the law’s even more dramatic and positive impact on redistricting in rural counties like Somerset County.)

Cindy Boersma made the same points more succinctly in an April 17, 2010 letter to the Washington Post.

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