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Candidates scramble under redistricting uncertainty

Mike Ertel Credit: Mike Ertel
Democrat Mike Ertel, who is running for Baltimore County's sixth district council seat. Credit: Mike Ertel

A federal judge Monday will hear arguments over whether the council district map drawn by Baltimore County in December violates the Voting Rights Act because it dilutes the power of Black voters.

The legal delay over the map is creating headaches for candidates.

Democrat Mike Ertel is running for the sixth district county council seat.

He lives in the fifth district.

But under the map approved by the county council his home would be moved into the sixth, which is why he is running in that district.

Except the state elections board has him running in the fifth.

Got that?

Ertel said, “They put me in the fifth district because the maps aren’t approved yet.”

He said the uncertainty makes it harder to get people to contribute to his campaign.

“You get thrown a lot of, well do you really know what district you’re running in? You know, can we wait until we know for sure?”

Ertel hesitates campaigning in those sixth district neighborhoods that could wind up in a different district. He said the redistricting confusion makes it harder for new candidates like him to get the word out about their campaigns.

“It’s like everything else in this world. We need new blood,” Ertel said. “We need new ideas. We need people to step up and do things, but they do things like this where it’s obviously not making it easier. It’s just making it confusing.”

If for some reason Ertel’s home does not get moved out of the fifth council district, then he would find himself in a much tougher race. The fifth district seat is held by three term incumbent, Republican David Marks, who is running for reelection. Marks and Ertel squared off in the 2010 council race. Marks won his first term on the council that year, garnering 53% of the vote.

On the other hand, the sixth district is an open seat. Democratic incumbent Cathy Bevins announced last week she would not be seeking a fourth term.

The suit against the county, brought by the NAACP Baltimore County Branch, alleges the map passed by the county council weakens the political power of African Americans. The reason is that about 30% of the county’s population is Black, but only one of seven council districts is majority African American.

The county counters creating a second Black majority district would split too many communities into two council districts. The council has proposed a new map that would keep the one Black majority district, and create two minority-majority districts, meaning all minorities combined would add up to more than 50% of the voters in those districts.

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