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Almost 40 Baltimore County residents during a Tuesday evening hearing overwhelmingly opposed a redistricting plan that civil rights groups say dilutes Black votes by maintaining just one majority-Black district in a county that is almost half non-white.

Senator Dolores Kelley speaks at a news conference to call on Baltimore County Council to start over with the proposed county redistricting plan, which would unlawfully dilute Black people’s votes, in violation of the Voting Rights Act. 10/12/21 © Lloyd Fox/Baltimore Sun Senator Dolores Kelley speaks at a news conference to call on Baltimore County Council to start over with the proposed county redistricting plan, which would unlawfully dilute Black people’s votes, in violation of the Voting Rights Act. 10/12/21

Opponents want the Baltimore County Council to redraw councilmanic lines that they say violate the Votings Rights Act. By the end of the hearing, Democratic council chair Julian Jones said he plans to “work hard to see if there is a way” to create at least one more majority-Black district.

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“We are a better council when we do in fact hear from you,” Jones, the only Black member of the council, said. “And your voice was loud and clear.”

A five-member redistricting commission convened to redraw the councilmanic lines (which coincides with the once-every-decade U.S. census) recommended that the county keep councilmanic boundaries that would ensure that six of the county’s seven districts maintain a majority white population.

Opponents, such as two Baltimore County NAACP chapters and the ACLU, say the plan does not keep up with changing demographics — about half of the county electorate is now people of color and 30% are Black — and are asking for at least one additional district to have a majority Black population.

Speaking just before the hearing, redistricting commission chair Robert Latshaw Jr. defended the commission’s draft maps, reiterating that the county’s Black populace is dispersed across the county, which makes drawing a second majority-Black district impractical, and could not be done without splitting communities.

“We did not want to change much of the districts that we have now nor did we want to change much of the 4th District, where there is a very solid [approximately 70%] African American population,” Latshaw said.

“To create the district we are accused of not making would be gerrymandering,” he said, adding that voters elect officials who “take care of their constituents.”

“Do people vote color? I don’t think so,” he said. “Not anymore.”

Those who testified in opposition to the plan pushed back on those assertions.

The county’s sole majority-minority district, the 4th, encompasses Owings Mills and Randallstown to the west. The Baltimore County NAACP and ACLU of Maryland have suggested that an additional majority-Black district could be created in the southwestern 1st District by shifting boundaries between the 1st and 4th districts. The 1st District currently encompasses Catonsville, Arbutus, Lansdowne and part of Woodlawn.

Several other groups, such as the Randallstown NAACP and Indivisible Towson, have submitted alternative proposals showing ways in which boundaries could be redrawn to create at least one additional majority-Black district.

That is “indisputable evidence that more majority-minority districts can be created,” said Gerald Morrison, a Rosedale resident and first vice president of the Baltimore County NAACP, during the hearing.

Responding to assertions by some council members that a qualified Black candidate could win in any district, Catonsville resident Daryl Yoder noted that voters elected the council’s first Black representative only after, facing activist pressure, the council created its sole majority-Black 4th District in 2001. Just two Black candidates have ever been elected, and both were in the 4th District.

“This requires us to believe that no qualified Black candidate has ever run for a council seat anywhere in the county before” 2001, Yoder said.

“I don’t think that’s a reasonable” interpretation of reality, he said.

Speaking on NPR’s “Midday with Tom Hall” on Tuesday afternoon, County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. said his administration does not have a role in designing or approving the district maps.

But he noted the importance of the county’s soon-to-be fair election fund, which voters approved last year.

Proposed by Olszewski, the public financing is meant to give candidates the opportunity to access public funds as a way to “make sure we have a more diverse pool of candidates,” Olszewski said.

Ericka McDonald, co-president of the League of Women Voters of Baltimore County, noted the county’s “long history” of racial inequality in Baltimore County, the effects of which she says are still felt in the county today.

“It is the responsibility of the county to give people of color a chance to run,” she said.

Opposition to Towson split

The commission’s plan largely focuses on changes to the county’s 5th and 6th districts, moving downtown Towson to Democratic Councilwoman Cathy Bevins’ 6th District and creating a more conservative district for Marks’ 5th District, which includes Perry Hall, Bowleys Quarters and part of Middle River under the approved proposal.

Towson advocates have long sought to be in a compact single-member jurisdiction, but the county seat is split among four districts. That would remain the case under the draft maps.

But several speakers said they opposed the plan’s relocation of some northern Towson precincts that sit below I-695 to the largely rural 3rd District, with which some speakers said they have little in common.

As a public transit user, for instance, Towson resident Cheryl Gottlieb (whose residence on Joppa Road would be pushed to the 3rd District under the draft plan) said she is “not going to be getting adequate representation” in the 3rd District where there is little transit.

Jason Barker, a member of the Chatterleigh Association, which represents about 416 residences in northern Towson, said those neighborhoods are “indelibly linked toward the greater Towson community.”

“My neighbors work, shop and attend schools in Towson,” he said. “The services that we seek are aligned with Towson, not northern Baltimore County.”

The Republican 3rd District councilman, Wade Kach, agreed.

“The beltway is a natural border which we need to take very seriously,” he said. “I will do what I can to help unite Towson by moving [precincts that were shifted] back to Towson. Because I do think that’s where they belong.”

Baltimore Sun Media reporter Cameron Goodnight contributed to this article.

Source : https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/your-voice-was-loud-and-clear-after-public-opposition-baltimore-county-council-chair-says-he-ll-seek-to-redraw-redistricting-maps/ar-AAPXWTU

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