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People put pressure on Baltimore County Council to scrap its redistricting map

John Lee
Towson Historic Courthouse Credit: John Lee

Dozens of people told the Baltimore County Council at a public hearing Tuesday night that its proposed redistricting map is unfair to minorities, divides Towson, and benefits incumbents.

They urged the council to throw out the map and redraw their council districts.

Robert Latshaw, the chairman of the county’s redistricting commission, defended the proposed map. It calls for only one of the council’s seven districts to be majority Black, even though Baltimore County’s population is nearly 30% African American.

“It was not easy or practical for us to make two districts where there was a very high majority of African American,” Latshaw said.

He said the proposed plan, which has one council district that’s more than 70% African American, ensures one Black councilman, but he acknowledged, “Apparently we have received some criticism for the work that was done.”

That is an understatement.

One speaker after another zeroed in on the fact that six of the county’s seven council members are white, even though non-whites make up nearly 50% of the population. Daryl Yoder, who lives in Catonsville, told the council that matters.  

“Because when people see what is supposed to be a representative government body, and that body year after year and decade after decade never looks like them, is always disproportionately skewed towards the majority, they lose faith in it,” Yoder said. “They stop engaging with it. They stop believing in it.”

Ryan Coleman, with the Randallstown Branch of the NAACP, said packing so many Black voters into one district dilutes their political power.

“No African American has won elected office in a white majority district in Baltimore County ever,” Coleman said.

The Baltimore County NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland have presented alternative maps that would shift thousands of Black voters out of the one heavily African American district into another. Justin Nalley, the public policy analyst with the ACLU, said each of the alternative maps complies with the Voting Rights Act and gives minority voters the ability to participate in the political process.

“To be clear, the council should view our maps as options to show that two majority Black districts can and should be created to comply with the Voting Rights Act.”

In an interview last week with WYPR, Nalley said they will legally challenge the plan if it's not changed.

The council also heard from a number of Towson area residents like Rose Kinder.

“What has been proposed for Towson stinks,” she said.

Kinder and others don’t like that the county seat would be divided between two council districts. Some residents, like Pete Munsey, would find themselves moved to the southern end of the county’s most rural district.

Munsey said, “It borders on the comic and almost tragic if our neighborhood, by the Baltimore beltway, now finds itself in effect straddling the Pennsylvania state line.”

Republican Councilman Wade Kach, who represents the rural third district, said he will do what he can to move those residents back into the Towson district.

Towson resident Sonia Shah said the map is tailor made for incumbents because it makes it easier for them to win reelection.

“This is a conflict of interest and I think the council can rise above it and advocate for the people’s interests and not just their own,” Shah said. “But to do that they must involve us in the process.”

That was another complaint heard time and again: that Tuesday night’s public hearing was hastily called and not properly advertised so a lot of people didn’t know about it.

For those who did, Democratic Council Chairman Julian Jones said their voices were heard loud and clear.

“Stay tuned and we will continue to take input and take suggestions.”

Jones said he is planning for redistricting legislation to be submitted to the council in about three weeks, at its November 15 meeting.

The council must redraw its own districts based on the 2020 census by January.

John Lee is a reporter for WYPR covering Baltimore County. @JohnWesleyLee2
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