The Baltimore County Council unanimously approved a contested redistricting proposal Monday night with few amendments, setting the stage for a legal dispute with civil rights organizations.
The map keeps one majority-Black district with 73% Black residents, the 4th District, in a county that is 30% Black. Several local groups and the ACLU of Maryland have said the proposed map violates the Voting Rights Act by packing Black voters into the 4th District and diluting the county’s remaining Black voters’ power by splitting them among the other six districts — currently all represented by white council members.
The proposed map includes a 1st District — including Catonsville, Arbutus and portions of Woodlawn — that the county says is majority-minority, but where white voters outnumber Black voters by around 20 percentage points.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland reaffirmed Monday evening it will file a lawsuit. Both county chapters of the NAACP had threatened to challenge the map in court if approved.
“We’ll see you in court,” the ACLU of Maryland tweeted shortly after the vote. “The Voting Rights Act isn’t optional.”
Map opponents have shown that an additional majority-Black district is possible by shifting constituents from the 4th District, which includes Millford Mill, Randallstown and parts of Owings Mills, to either the adjacent 1st or 2nd districts, which each have around a 30% Black population currently.
The council made two amendments that moved voting precincts from the 2nd District to the 3rd District and shifted census blocks north of Joppa Road and east of Perring Parkway from the 3rd District to the 5th.
“This has been a very difficult process,” said Council chair Julian Jones, who represents the 4th District and is the body’s only Black member. “I think we did what we had to do.”
Council members like Jones and Democrat Tom Quirk of the 1st District said their constituents did not want to be moved from their districts, though legal experts say complying with federal redistricting laws supersedes concerns about community division.
“The communities do not want to be divided,” Quirk said.
Republican councilman Todd Crandell, who represents Essex and Dundalk, said the county was already becoming diverse — nearly half are nonwhite, according to U.S. Census data.
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Using redistricting to “artificially” create districts that might entice Black, Latino or other candidates of color to run “is disingenuous to the whole idea of what America is all about and the opportunities that we all have,” Crandell said.
Quirk said with the county’s changing demographics — his district is already majority nonwhite — he sees “a very legitimate chance we could have two or three council members that are more diverse.”
And if the map is challenged in court, he added, “I think this map will stand strong.”