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Baltimore County sued for allegedly violating the Voting Rights Act

Lauren Watley, Baltimore County Government
Baltimore County Council. Credit: Baltimore County

The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland and the Baltimore County Branch of the NAACP delivered on their threat Tuesday to sue the Baltimore County Council over its redistricting plan.

The suit, filed in the United States District Court in Baltimore, claims the plan violates the Voting Rights Act by packing too many Black voters into one district, diluting the Black vote countywide.

The redistricting map, passed unanimously Monday night, has one district that is more than 70% black.

The lawsuit argues there should be two Black majority districts because Baltimore County’s population is about 30% Black. Ericka McDonald, the co-president of the League of Women Voters of Baltimore County which joined the suit, said there is no reason to put so many Black voters into one district.

“We must push back against a map that meets local charter requirements but violates federal law,” McDonald said. “And we must push back when our elected officials serve their own interest before those of the people.”

Fourth District Council Chairman Julian Jones, a Democrat, represents the one majority Black district and is the only Black member on the seven-member council. He opposed redrawing the map to create a second majority Black district, saying that would have caused a domino effect of dividing communities elsewhere in the county between council districts.

At a news conference Tuesday announcing the lawsuit, Gerald Morrison, the first vice president of the Baltimore County Branch of the NAACP said packing Black voters in one district dilutes and marginalizes the African American vote in the other six districts.

The map “continues the racially motivated practice of diluting African American voting strength,” he said.

Council members say they are confident the map will hold up in court.

In an email, Baltimore County Attorney James Benjamin declined to comment on the case “due to the anticipated litigation involving the redistricting matter.”

Former Maryland Secretary of State John Willis, who teaches public affairs at the University of Baltimore, said he believes the county is “in a precarious position because when you do start packing a district, you get over 70%, that makes you wonder what the intent is.”

However, Willis said a possible weakness in the plaintiffs’ case is that there is not a history of Black candidates losing county council elections.

“It’s more complex than the allegations of the lawsuit allege,” Willis said.

The plaintiffs say they will ask the court to move swiftly on the suit and make a ruling before the February deadline when candidates must file to run in 2022.

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