Plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit against the Baltimore County Council’s redistricting plan argued in a court filing Thursday that a new map of county council districts, submitted by the council, still does not meet the voting rights law.
U.S. District Court Judge Lydia Kay Griggsby ordered the new map in February, saying the council’s plan must include either “two reasonably compact black majority districts” or one other council district in which black voters “otherwise have the possibility of electing a representative of their choice.
Five of the seven districts in the plan the council approved in December were majority white, and another, District 1, had 49.41% white plurality in its voting-age population.
About 30% of county residents are black, according to U.S. Census data, and nearly half are people of color.
The council submitted the newly redrawn districts to court late Tuesday evening. This plan includes a smaller black majority, 61.12%, in District 4 and would include a white plurality, at 45.80%, rather than a white majority, in District 2. The new District 2 would also have a percentage higher number of black residents, 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 council’s new map still dilutes the power of black voters.
“This amounts to making the violation of [the Voting Rights Act] a little less egregious but without remedying it, then ask the Court to disregard the violation because it is not as serious as the violation originally proposed,” the lawyers wrote. “There is no legal authority for such an approach.”
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 the plaintiffs, which included two majority-black districts.
Cooper argued that the council’s proposed new map still “wraps” 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 into them. distributed among several districts.
County prosecutors said in their Tuesday filing that the council’s new map complies with voting rights law 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 ‘the opportunity to elect a representative of their choice and that meets the requirements of the Voting Rights Act,'” states the county filing on Tuesday. “The proposed new redistricting map does exactly that. According to the proposed new redistricting map, District 2, which was already a crossover district, will function as an even stronger district.
Baltimore County’s only current black-majority council district was drawn in 2001 after a push by civil rights activists. Residents of this district have elected a black council member in every election since its inception, while predominantly white districts have elected white council members. Baltimore County Council Chairman Julian E. Jones Jr. (D) is the council’s only black member.
Jones said in a news release Tuesday that “opportunities now exist more than ever for people of color to seek election in Baltimore County” with the board’s newly submitted map.
The plaintiffs countered that while 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, the plaintiffs wrote, does not have the same effect as another majority-black district.
“The county went from a blatant plan, where the county’s white population (52% of the county’s total population) controlled 86% of council districts, to a slightly less blatant plan where the same white population still controls 86% council districts,” the plaintiffs wrote.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs have asked the court to order the next county council election to be held with one of their own plans rather than the redrawn county council map. Griggsby has scheduled a state of play conference call for Friday at 11 a.m.