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Judge wants new redistricting map from the Baltimore County Council by Tuesday

Linda Dorsey-Walker signs the petition to put on the ballot the charter amendment to increase the size of the Baltimore County Council to 11. Credit: John Lee

The Baltimore County Council is facing a Tuesday deadline imposed by a federal judge to redraw a new council district map. The judge rejected the one passed by the council because it has only one majority Black district.

Meanwhile a second front is opening with the same goal: to make it easier for more minorities to get elected to the council.

The looming Tuesday deadline is the latest turn of this nearly year-long redistricting saga.

U.S. District Judge Lydia Kay Griggsby on February 22 struck down the map drawn by the County Council because it only had one majority Black district, even though the county is about 30% African American.

Andrew Freeman, an attorney for the Baltimore County Branch of the NAACP, which sued the county, said the judge sent a message.

“This is not your father’s Baltimore County,” Freeman said. “Baltimore County is now a third Black and almost half people of color and the council representation needs to reflect that.”

The seven member council has six white members. All seven, including the one Black councilman, chairman Julian Jones, said they would have to split communities between council districts in order to create a second that has a Black majority.

A map with a single Black majority district held up through months of meetings and hearings before the council passed it on December 20, 2021. The NAACP sued the next day. Judge Griggsby struck down the Council’s map and wants to see a new one by Tuesday.

Meanwhile, a coalition of community organizations, 4MORE! 4BALTIMORECOUNTY, is calling for the council to be expanded to 11 members. It is launching a petition drive to put the issue on the November 2022 ballot as a charter amendment.

Under the county charter, the coalition would have to collect 10,000 or more valid signatures on their petition to get the question on the ballot.

Linda Dorsey-Walker, the chair of the coalition and a long time activist, said more people are demanding a seat at the table.

“My feeling was after hearing many people ask for a second predominantly minority district and the answer to them being no, I decided it was unfair to continue waiting any longer than we had already waited,” said Dorsey-Walker.

Alejandra Ivanovich, the executive director of Amigos Baltimore County, which organizes forums and food drives to help the Latino community, said she represents the demographic changes occurring in the county.

“As a community activist, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve seen firsthand the great need of minorities,” Ivanovich said. “I believe that by supporting this cause, it will allow for people like me to be properly represented in Baltimore County.”

The county charter was approved by voters in 1956. It created seven council districts. Although the county’s population has nearly tripled to around 855,000, the number of council districts has remained the same.

Republican Councilman David Marks said increasing the number of council seats from seven to 11 would be a radical change.

“It’s going to be a tough sell anyway,” Marks said. “I’ve always thought Baltimore County voters are much more conservative on these issues of the mechanics of government than their political party might demonstrate.”

Marks said the coalition has done little to reach out to county Republicans.

“Charter changes are very difficult to get through the general electorate,” Marks said. “It would be very helpful that if they want this to pass that they would actually engage Republican voters and Republican organizations. We do exist.”

Both Marks and fellow Republican Councilman Todd Crandell said they are open to expanding to a nine seat council, but not 11.

“Going to 11 is an expansion of government that is very expensive and not necessary,” Crandell said.

The County Council costs $2.8 million to operate annually. Adding four seats would roughly cost the county another $1.6 million. The county’s overall annual budget is $4.2 billion.

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