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Ruling expected in “the next several days” in Baltimore County redistricting case

towson_courthouse.jpg
John Lee
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Towson Historic Courthouse, the seat of Baltimore County government. Credit: John Lee

A U.S. District Court Judge said she will rule swiftly after hearing more than three hours of testimony Tuesday in the legal challenge to Baltimore County’s council redistricting map.

At issue is whether the court will force the county council to create a second Black majority district.

The seven-member council currently has one majority Black district. The county council in December approved a map that will keep it that way for another 10 years.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, the NAACP Baltimore County and others sued, saying there should be a second, because the county’s population is nearly 30% Black.

Both sides presented dueling expert witnesses to make their cases during the virtual hearing.

Matt Barreto, a professor of political studies at UCLA, testified on behalf of the plaintiffs.

“It is definitely possible to create a second majority Black district in Baltimore County on the west side,” Barreto said.

The county’s sole Black majority district is the fourth, which is on the west side. More than 70% of its population is Black. Those who want a second majority Black district want the lines redrawn to reduce the number of African-American voters in the fourth by shifting them to an adjoining district. They say packing so many Black voters in one district weakens their power countywide.

Barreto said evidence shows that voting is polarized in the county.

“In any election when Black candidates run in competitive elections against white candidates, white voters in Baltimore County block vote against Black-preferred candidates,” Barreto said.

Several races were cited to make that point, including the 2014 and 2018 races for governor, when Republican Larry Hogan got more votes in the county than Black Democratic candidates, and the 2016 U.S. Senate Democratic primary in which Chris Van Hollen received more votes in the county than Donna Edwards, who is Black.

James Gimpel, who teaches voting and redistricting at the University of Maryland at College Park and was a witness for the county, took issue with those examples.

Gimpel said, “We’re talking about a County Council. That’s a world away from these high-profile state elections that are run with these multi-million dollar campaign budgets.

“If you get out and run a campaign, a typical, sort of local campaign where you do a lot of hustling and knocking door to door, you can win the race.”

Gimpel pointed to the 2018 election of Cheryl Pasteur to the school board. Pasteur is Black. She defeated a white opponent in a majority white district.

“There is more than race playing into people’s votes,” Gimpel said. “There are many other factors that matter. We have seen Black candidates like Ms. Pasteur do very well.”

But the plaintiffs countered that Pasteur was able to win because her opponent did not campaign.

In her own legal filing supporting the NAACP’s suit, Pasteur said her opponent essentially “did not mount a campaign.”

Pasteur wrote, “The final result literally brought me to my knees, because my team and I were not sure that, at the end, my commitment and experience would be enough.”

Andrew Freeman, the attorney for the NAACP, proposed giving the county 10 days to redraw the map.

District Judge Lydia Kay Griggsby said she plans to rule quickly after reviewing the evidence.

“The next several days I think would be appropriate,” Griggsby said.

The 2022 primary is June 28.

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