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Baltimore County Council’s redrawn district map falls short of what NAACP wants

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

The Baltimore County Council’s redrawn council district map, which was ordered by a federal judge, does not include a second majority Black district, as demanded by groups suing the county.

Late Tuesday night, the county filed with the court a proposed map that instead creates a third “minority-majority” council district. In other words, all minorities combined make up a majority of the people in the district.

On February 22, U.S. District Judge Lydia Kay Griggsby granted the NAACP its request for a preliminary injunction and ordered the county to redraw the map by March 8.

But the judge gave the county some wiggle room.

Griggsby wrote the new map needs to have either a second Black-majority district or “an additional County District in which Black voters otherwise have an opportunity to elect a representative of their choice.”

It is the second option that the county council believes it has satisfied.

“Clearly, it was something else that she was willing to accept, and that is what we’ve submitted,” said Baltimore County Council Chairman Julian Jones.

All the districts in play are on the county’s west side.

The original map for the county’s seven council districts, passed unanimously by the council in December, has one Black majority district, the fourth. Another district, the first, is minority-majority.

Under the new map, the second district would become minority-majority as well. According to the county’s motion, 54% of the second district’s voting population would be made up of minorities. It would be about 41% Black.

Jones represents the fourth district and is the only Black member on the seven-member council. His district currently is more than 70% Black.

Under the council’s new proposal, the fourth would be about 60% African American so would remain a majority-Black district. Enough Black voters would be moved out of the fourth and into the second to make it a minority-majority district.

Jones and other council members have balked at creating a second majority Black district because they said it would lead to communities being split between council districts. Jones said the new map would divide fewer communities.

“This map does it as best we can, given the circumstances we are in,” he said. “Trying to obey the judge’s order, we’ve done that and trying to keep communities together as best we can.”

The county is asking the court to approve its map, then give the county council time to adopt it formally through legislation.

The Baltimore County branch of the NAACP and others sued the county in December, arguing the original map violated the Voting Rights Act. They are calling for a second Black majority district because Baltimore County’s population is about 30% African American.

The NAACP’s suit charges Baltimore County has a history of white-bloc voting, so a second Black-majority district is necessary to open the door for another African American to be elected.

In her February decision granting the preliminary injunction, Judge Griggsby said the plaintiffs have shown a second Black majority district can be drawn on the county’s west side.

In its own filing Tuesday, the NAACP asked the judge to come up with her own map by March 15 if she decides to reject the one proposed by the county.

The filing deadline for anyone who wants to run for office in Maryland is a week later, March 22.

In a statement Tuesday night one of the plaintiffs, Tony Fugett asked, “Why do Baltimore County council members think it’s okay for white voters, who constitute only half of the county’s population, to continue to control six out of seven council seats?”

The County Council in January hired the law firm of McGuireWoods LLP to represent it in redistricting cases. The contract is for one year and will not exceed $850,000.

This story may be updated.

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