A new Baltimore County redistricting plan introduced Monday fails to create a second majority-Black district despite calls to do so by civil rights groups and residents at a public hearing.
The map, obtained Tuesday by The Baltimore Sun, unites Towson into a single-member district after residents of the county seat railed against a previous version of the draft map that split the district. But in what was explained as a political compromise, the map would wipe out proposed changes to the 1st District to maintain the current district where people of color, including Black, Asian, Hispanic or Latin residents, make up the largest group of voters.
The legislation was added to the council’s Monday agenda at the last minute as staffers worked throughout the day to prepare the maps. All council members signed on to sponsor the plan.
“We have reached a consensus where we all can live with the map,” council chair Julian Jones said. “At the end of the day this is the map that’ll get seven votes.”
Ryan Coleman, president of the Randallstown NAACP, disagrees.
“This is the worst map for African Americans that could be,” he said.
Coleman is among the many civil rights advocates who opposed a draft plan from the county’s redistricting commission in September. Both plans maintained one majority-Black district in western Baltimore County.
The county has seven districts and six white council representatives. Jones, a Woodstock Democrat, is the only Black council member, representing the 4th District, which is 70% Black and encompasses Owings Mills and Randallstown.
Groups like the Randallstown and Baltimore County NAACP, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Baltimore County League of Women Voters and county residents said that in a county where people of color make up 47% of the population — and Black residents are 30% of the population — there should be at minimum one additional majority Black district. An alternative plan floated by the ACLU included a third “swing” district with an even number of white people and people of color.
The groups have said that failure to create another majority-Black district flies in the face of the Voting Rights Act.
“This clearly is not Baltimore County’s finest hour,” the ACLU, which has threatened to sue the county over the law, wrote in a joint statement with the Baltimore County NAACP.
Despite the outcry from civil rights advocates, the ACLU said, council members “chose to protect their own narrow interests over doing what is right and fair.”
The county said Tuesday the new map proposal created a second majority-minority district in the 1st District, but it largely maintains the same boundary lines. Currently, people of color are the largest bloc of voters in the 1st District, which includes Catonsville, Arbutus and Halethorpe — 48.5% of residents self-reported as Black, Asian, Hispanic or Latino, according to census data.
Around 46% of the district’s population is white and about 4.5% of residents identify as two or more races. The revised map keeps Woodlawn in the 1st District, but the demographics are unchanged.
“This is being framed like we got another majority-minority district; that’s not true,” Coleman said. “It’s misleading at best.”
The new proposal does not rework the boundaries of the 4th District in order to create a second majority-Black district as civil rights advocates have suggested.
State Sen. Charles Sydnor, a Baltimore County representative who rallied in October against the district lines, wrote on Twitter that the new map “is packing at its worst,” referring to the addition of Black residents into the 4th District.
Coleman said he’s frustrated that the county is ignoring what he says is an obvious path toward a second majority-Black district.
“The [2nd District] is staring at us like the elephant in the room next to the 4th District that has 70% African Americans,” Coleman said.
He wants to move a voting precinct from the 4th to the 2nd District to add more Black residents there, but Jones was doubtful that alone would achieve the outcome civil rights groups want.
“It’s easy to do if all you’re doing is moving numbers on a paper,” Jones said. “If all you’re doing is looking at numbers, not neighbors.”
The Morning Sun
Jones held two town halls in late October to discuss the maps. He said many constituents did not want to be removed from the 4th.
“At the end of the day it is the elected officials who have to look the communities in the face and take direction from their communities,” he said.
Coleman questioned why the largely white Towson — currently split between the 5th and 6th districts — seems to have successfully advocated to unite the county seat into one district.
“What’s most concerning to me is — and I support Towson being together — but why is it that the system never works for African Americans?” he asked. “Why is it that Towson was able to become whole but we haven’t been able to become whole yet?”
Jones said the county “went through a lot of scenarios, we went through a lot of maps, we looked at everything everyone sent; we had two times as many versions as our own [map].”
“We could not come up with a consensus to move forward,” he said.
A public hearing on the proposed maps is scheduled for Dec. 14 with a final vote on track for Dec. 20. The council has until Jan. 31 to approve the new districts. The council may hold more hearings on the plan but none have been scheduled yet.