In a big partisan gerrymandering case that will come before the Supreme Court in March, lawyers, and judges have already devoted thousands of words to the question of why some of Maryland’s eight congressional districts are so, ah, creatively drawn. But the best answer by far comes from the man who drew them. In 2011, Eric Hawkins lugged a laptop loaded with demographic data and a program called Maptitude to Capitol Hill and the offices of the state’s six Democratic House members. Over a series of meetings of which there apparently are no written records, Mr. Hawkins not only crafted new districts for those members, but rerouted the district of 10-term Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett to make it substantially more challenging for a Republican. In the first election after the new maps were drawn, Mr. Bartlett failed to muster even 38 percent of the vote. And Maryland Democrats added another House seat to the six they already boasted. Asked in a deposition last year why the state’s Democratic House members met with him, Mr. Hawkins was refreshingly forthcoming. “They wanted to get re-elected,” he said.
Mr. Hawkins, an analyst for a Washington political consulting firm called NCEC Services Inc., is part of a cottage industry of statisticians, computer jockeys and political sages whose business is to turn demographic data into electoral maps. His firm works exclusively with Democrats; others — like Geographic Strategies, run by the former Republican Party redistricting expert Thomas B. Hofeller — are dog-loyal to Republicans.
By and large, they are political junkies and data nerds. Mr. Hawkins left the University of Colorado in the 1980s to join the doomed presidential campaigns of Senator Gary Hart and Governor Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts before going into consulting. Mr. Hofeller holds a Ph.D. in government, helped develop the first computerized redistricting system for California’s State Assembly, and has long been the mapmaking éminence grise in the Republican Party.