The Baltimore County Council waited until the eleventh hour to submit a new redistricting plan to a federal judge Tuesday night — and the revised map still included only one majority Black Council district.
U.S. District Court Judge Lydia Kay Griggsby ordered the new map in February, saying the council’s plan needed to include either “two reasonably compact majority-Black Districts” or another district in which Black voters “otherwise have an opportunity to elect a representative of their choice.” The plan was due by 11:59 p.m. Tuesday.
Roughly 30% of county residents are Black, according to U.S. Census data, and nearly half are people of color — reflecting increasing diversity in the county in recent decades. But five of seven districts in the plan that was approved by the county council in December were majority white and another, District 1, had a 49.41% white plurality in its voting age population.
In a plan that became available in online court records at about 11 p.m. Tuesday evening, the Baltimore County Council presented a map that still retained only one majority Black council district.
The council’s new proposed plan includes a District 4 with a smaller Black majority, 61.12% of the district’s voting age population, and includes a white plurality rather than a majority in District 2, with 45.80% of the district’s voting age population being white.
District 2 also has a higher percentage of Black residents, moving from 29.58% of the district’s voting age population in the council’s December map to 41.22% in the new map.
Attorneys for the county said the new map should pass judicial muster because it complies with the Voting Rights Act by making District 2 a “crossover” or “coalition” district.
“The Court ordered the County to create a new map with a second district that will give Black voters ‘an opportunity to elect a representative of their choice and that comports with the requirements of the Voting Rights Act,’” the filing states. “The new proposed redistricting map does exactly that. Under the new proposed redistricting map, District 2, which was already a crossover district, will function as an even stronger one in which members of the majority help a ‘large enough’ minority to elect its candidate of choice.”
The Baltimore County NAACP, Common Cause Maryland, the League of Women Voters of Baltimore County, and several Black voters in the county filed the federal lawsuit against the council’s redistricting plan in December, arguing that the plan violated the Voting Rights Act by retaining only one majority Black council district.
The county’s only single majority-Black council district was drawn in 2001 after a push from civil rights activists. Residents of that district have elected a Black council member in every election since it was created, while majority white districts have elected white council members. Baltimore County Council Chair Julian E. Jones Jr. (D) is the only Black council member.
Jones said in a Tuesday press release that “opportunities exist now more than ever for people of color to get elected in Baltimore County” with the newly submitted map.
“The Redistricting Plan we submitted to the Court represents this Council’s good faith efforts to comply with the Court’s Order,” Jones said. “As was the case when we adopted a Redistricting Plan last December, this has been a very difficult process and we considered a number of mapping scenarios in trying to achieve a Map in which the Council could reach a consensus and that would stay true to traditional and legal redistricting principles of compact and contiguous districts with substantially equal populations; recognizing the importance of keeping communities intact; and providing more opportunity for Black voters in the County to elect representatives of their choice. We have done that with this map.”
The Baltimore County NAACP, Common Cause Maryland, the League of Women Voters of Baltimore County, and several Black voters in the county filed the federal lawsuit against the council’s redistricting plan in December, arguing that the plan violated the Voting Rights Act.
Griggsby wrote in a Feb. 22 order that the plaintiffs had a “substantial likelihood of success” in proving that the map violates the federal Voting Rights Act, and said plaintiffs showed that “Black County voters have less opportunity than White County voters to elect candidates of their choice to the Council.”
On Tuesday afternoon, the plaintiffs said they had been “stonewalled” by the county after Griggsby’s order, and that county officials had refused to provide them with the new map or any data about the map.
“Counsel for the County did not return Plaintiffs’ calls, texts, and emails until yesterday evening, at which point the County refused to provide either the proposed new map or the data necessary to assess compliance, contending that under the Court’s Order the County need not submit its map, despite its availability, until sometime before 11:59 p.m. on March 8,” the plaintiffs wrote in a Tuesday filing.
Anthony Fugett, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, questioned the timing of the county’s filing in a statement.
“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?” Fugett asked. “Why are they drafting their maps in secret and filing them in the middle of the night?”
Ava E. Lias Booker, an attorney with the law firm McGuire Woods who is representing the county in the redistricting case, wrote in a court filing that the county provided its proposed draft of a joint status report to the plaintiffs 30 minutes before they submitted their status report Tuesday afternoon.
Attorneys for the county did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday. Pressure has mounted on county council members to adopt a map in compliance with Griggsby’s order in recent weeks, with Baltimore County Executive John A. Olszewski Jr. (D) and several Democratic candidates for statewide office calling on council members to do so.
In their Tuesday filing, the plaintiffs wrote that, if the new map doesn’t comply with Griggsby’s requirement for “an additional County District in which Black voters otherwise have an opportunity to elect a representative of their choice,” both parties should get a “brief opportunity” to remedy that issue. And if the map still doesn’t comply with the court order, plaintiffs said the court should “enter its own map” on or before March 15 — a week before the new candidate filing deadline.
Jones wrote in a Tuesday evening court filing that the council might return for an emergency legislative session to get additional public input vote on the redistricting plan if the judge approves the new map.