ANNAPOLIS, Md. - Maryland voters are seeing numerous ads about high-profile ballot questions such as same-sex marriage and gambling, but they are not hearing much about whether to approve or reject the state's congressional redistricting map.
Ask voters about Question 5, and it's not uncommon to see their faces go blank.
"Well, I don't know anything about it," said Bill Councill, a 76- year-old Glen Burnie resident, in a recent interview less than two weeks before the election. "I'd have to try to find something about it."
In an unusually busy year for ballot questions in Maryland, Question 5 will give voters a rare chance to weigh in on how their congressional districts were drawn for the next 10 years. However, voters are focusing on other questions that have been far more widely advertised.
"I would have to really look into this matter, because the only thing I've been hearing about is Question 7," said 23-year-old Doris Windham, of Annapolis. She was referring to the expanded gambling ballot question that has had more than $60 million spent on advertising by gambling companies.
The Maryland General Assembly approved the new map in a special session last year based on the results of the 2010 census. It happens every 10 years in Maryland and in other states. Complaints about members of the majority party drawing districts to their benefit are not uncommon throughout the country.
This year, opponents of the map in Maryland say it has been unfairly drawn to oust one of two Maryland Republicans in the U.S. House, out of Maryland's eight total seats. Others have criticized the map for failing to adequately represent minorities. Opponents gathered enough signatures to put the map on the ballot to give voters a chance to reject the map and send state lawmakers back to the drawing board.
Laurie Frame, a 65-year-old Easton resident, said she's hardly heard anything about the ballot question on redistricting. Frame, a Democrat, said she will probably vote to approve it. However, she said she wouldn't hesitate to vote against it, if she reviews the map and decides it's unfair.
"If it looks unfair to me, then I would vote to have it repealed," Frame said.
If voters reject the map, a new one would have to be approved by lawmakers for the next primary in 2014.
Much of the opposition from Republicans has focused on significant changes made to the 6th congressional district in western Maryland. That district, which has been held by Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett for 20 years, has been changed to include about 300,000 voters in Montgomery County, a suburb of the nation's capital with more Democratic voters. Supporters of the map say the change was made to reflect demographic changes in the area, but opponents say the Democratic majority in Annapolis is simply targeting Bartlett.
The map has withstood court challenges. In December, a three-judge federal panel dismissed a lawsuit by saying nine plaintiffs did not satisfy the burden of proof in alleging the map discriminated against African-Americans by failing to create a third majority-black congressional district in the state. Still, the judges noted that their decision was not a complete endorsement of the map. That's because the shapes of several districts are "unusually odd," and many obvious communities of interest are divided.
Even some Democrats have expressed opposition, both when the map was first made public last year and in recent days.
Comptroller Peter Franchot, a Democrat who is statewide elected official, is urging voters to reject it. The comptroller said earlier this month he believes the redistricting process has eroded public confidence in the political process.
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