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Politics

Baltimore County Council redistricting case focuses on extent of racial polarization

A court hearing on Baltimore County Council’s proposed map of its council districts focused heavily on disagreement over the extent to which voting by county residents breaks down along racial lines.

U.S. District Judge Lydia Kay Griggsby heard arguments Monday afternoon over whether the council’s newly redrawn map of its district boundaries is fair to Black voters. The plaintiffs, including the Baltimore County NAACP branch and a number of county residents, have said the new map — like the first one — would disadvantage Black voters.

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On Feb. 22, Griggsby rejected the council’s initial map of its seven districts and ordered it to develop new boundaries that comply with the Voting Rights Act, which bars discriminatory election practices. Monday afternoon’s hearing was on whether the court should accept the council’s redrawn map.

Ava Lias-Booker, an attorney representing the county, told Griggsby the new map would improve opportunities for people of color to get elected in the county.

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“The original map was good, but this map’s better, and it addresses specifically the questions that the court had,” Lias-Booker said.

She based her arguments partly on the county’s redrawing of District 2 — in the south-central part of the county — to boost its Black population from 29.5% to more than 41%. The county says the white population in the district would decrease from more than 55% to about 44%.

“Under the new map, what we did is we enhanced the number of Black voters in that district,” Lias-Booker said.

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She said District 2 was already “a crossover district” in which racial polarization was minimized because “you have coalitions between Black and Jewish voters along with other minority voters.”

Council Chairman Julian Jones Jr., the first African American person to chair the county council, agreed that “it was evident and obvious” that — because so many Black and white voters in the district are Democrats — they often vote for the same candidate.

But political scientist Matt Barreto, called as a witness by the plaintiffs, said there was “extensive evidence of racial polarization” in several county districts, including District 2.

“In the county’s remedial District 2, the white voters that remain are voting heavily against the Black candidates of choice,” Barreto testified.

The plaintiffs have criticized the map because among the seven districts it contains a single majority-Black district — District 4, which is adjacent to District 2 — in a county that is about one-third Black.

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It’s not certain when the judge will rule.

In her February order, Griggsby required the county to adopt a new map that includes either two “reasonably compact” majority-Black districts or a new district with a racial balance providing Black voters “an opportunity to elect a representative of their choice.”


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