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Election 2022 Government & Politics

Petition Would Expand Baltimore County Council Seats to 11

A view from the back of the Baltimore County Council chamber
A petition effort seeks to expand the Baltimore County Council to 11 members. Baltimore County Flickr photo.

A petition drive is on to expand the Baltimore County Council from seven members to eleven.

Baltimore County’s Council has had just seven members since it was created in 1956 and a coalition of residents and local advocacy groups says it’s time to expand representation.

The Vote4More initiative, led by county resident Linda Dorsey Walker, aims to put a measure on the November ballot to add four seats to the council, according to the group’s website.

Vote4More aims to collect up to 12,000 signatures between March 4 and Aug. 31 to put the proposal to a public referendum.

The group aims to collect 4,000 signatures by May 1 and an additional 8,000 by Aug. 31 to make it on the ballot.

If the question gets on the ballot and voters approve it on referendum, the county council would expand to 11 seats for the 2026 election cycle.

Dorsey-Walker said that she’s been advocating for an expanded council for more than 20 years, but that council members repeatedly have rejected her efforts. Last year, she also appeared at hearings on the county council’s redistricting plan to call for more council seats.

She noted that the county’s population has more than doubled since the districts were first drawn.

According to the 2020 U.S. Census, Baltimore County had more than 854,000 residents, compared with roughly 350,000 when the county council was created in the 1950s.

That means that council districts, which once contained just 50,000 residents, now contain more than 120,000 residents, Dorsey-Walker said.

“We’re not going to start having fewer people,” she said.

Those pressing for an expansion of the council includes more than a dozen local groups, including the Baltimore County League of Women Voters, the Randallstown NAACP and the Greater Baltimore Muslim Council.

The push to add more seats to the Baltimore County Council comes amid legal challenges to the Council’s redistricting plan.

The county council last year enacted a map that kept just one majority Black district, although roughly 30% of county residents are Black, and civil rights groups sued the county in December, charging that the map violated the Voting Rights Act.

Recently, a federal judge ordered council members to redraw their redistricting plan by Tuesday.

In granting the plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction last month, U.S. District Court Judge Lydia Kay Griggsby wrote that “any harm to the County resulting from the injunction of its redistricting plan could not be as significant as the harm caused by the dilution of the votes of Black County voters.”

Griggsby ordered county officials to adopt a new plan that “either includes two reasonably compact majority-Black Districts for the election of County councilmembers, or an additional County District in which Black voters otherwise have an opportunity to elect a representative of their choice”

Dorsey-Walker said that, if the number of county council seats is increased, she believes that more people of color would get elected.

“I anticipate that there would not just be two majority-minority districts,” she said. “I am anticipating four to five at a minimum.”

She said that smaller districts would make county council members more accessible and make running for office more viable for women, young people, people with disabilities and LGBTQ+ people. She also said a broadened council would mean the legislative body could set up more standing committees and explore issues in more depth.

Dorsey-Walker said that she supports House Bill 1089, sponsored by Del. Sheila Ruth (D-Baltimore County), which would allow petitioners to collect electronic signatures. She said that, although the state allowed the collection of electronic signatures during the 2020 election cycle due to the pandemic, the State Board of Elections resisted her request to do so again this year.

Baltimore County is Maryland’s third largest jurisdiction. The two larger jurisdictions, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, each expanded their county council from nine to 11 members in recent years.