In Baltimore County Redistricting Case, Plaintiffs Say New Council Map Doesn’t Comply With Voting Rights Act
Plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit against the Baltimore County Council’s redistricting plan argued in a Thursday court filing that a new map for county council districts, submitted by the council, still fails to comply with the Voting Rights Act.
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 council district in which Black voters “otherwise have an opportunity to elect a representative of their choice.”
Five of seven districts in the plan that the council approved in December were majority white and another, District 1, had a 49.41% white plurality in its voting age population.
Roughly 30% of county residents are Black, according to the U.S. Census data, and nearly half are people of color.
The council submitted newly redrawn districts to the court late Tuesday evening. That plan includes a smaller Black majority, 61.12%, in District 4 and includes a white plurality, at 45.80%, rather than a white majority, in District 2. The new District 2 also would have higher percentage of Black residents, moving from 29.58% in the council’s December map to 41.22% in the new map.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs — Baltimore County NAACP, Common Cause Maryland, the League of Women Voters of Baltimore County, and several Black voters in the county — argued Thursday that the new council map still dilutes Black voters’ power.
“This amounts to making the violation of [the Voting Rights Act] a little less egregious but not curing it, then asking the Court to overlook the violation because it’s not as bad as the violation originally proposed,” the attorneys wrote. “There is no legal authority for such an approach.”
The plaintiffs argue that two majority Black districts can be drawn. Their filing included a map drawn by William Cooper, a demographer and redistricting expert for plaintiffs, that included two majority Black districts.
Cooper argued that the council’s newly proposed map still “packs” a supermajority of the county’s Black population into District 4 and also “cracks” majority Black communities including Woodlawn, Milford Mill, Randallstown and Owings Mills by splitting them among multiple districts.
Attorneys for the county said in their Tuesday filing that the council’s new map 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 county’s Tuesday 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.”
Baltimore County’s only current 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 council’s newly submitted map.
The plaintiffs countered that, although elections under the proposed plan “would be more competitive,” Black voters could still be outvoted by a white voting bloc in the redrawn district. The new District 2, plaintiffs wrote, doesn’t have the same effect as another majority Black district.
“The County went from an egregious plan, where the County’s white population (52% of the total County population) controlled 86% of council districts, to a slightly less egregious plan where the same white population still controls 86% of council districts,” the plaintiffs wrote.
Plaintiffs’ attorneys asked the court to order that the upcoming county council election be conducted with one of their own plans rather than the county council’s redrawn map. Griggsby scheduled a telephone status conference for 11 a.m. Friday.