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Federal judge tosses Baltimore County redistricting map challenged under Voting Rights Act

Baltimore County’s redistricting plan likely violates the Voting Rights Act and must be replaced with a new map that offers Black voters greater representation, a federal judge ruled late Tuesday.

Council Chairman Julian E. Jones Jr. said in a statement that Baltimore County Council and its lawyers will review the decision and consider next steps.

U.S. District Judge Lydia Kay Griggsby granted a preliminary injunction request from several voting rights groups, including the Baltimore County NAACP, the League of Women Voters of Baltimore County and Common Cause Maryland. State Sen. Charles Sydnor, D-Baltimore County, and six Black voters are also named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

The preliminary injunction blocks Baltimore County from holding an election using its current redistricting plan, which critics said diluted minority votes by packing Black voters into a single district.

Instead, the county must adopt a new map that either includes two “reasonably compact” majority Black districts or an additional district “in which Black voters otherwise have an opportunity to elect a representative of their choice and that comports with the requirements of the Voting Rights Act.”

The lawsuit, filed in December, followed a heated public debate about the redistricting map, which outlines the seven County Council districts. The complaint alleged that Baltimore County violated the Voting Right Act by declining to draw two majority-Black districts, even as the county’s Black population grew to more than 30%.

Using a multipart test, Griggsby concluded that the plaintiffs have a “substantial likelihood of success” on their claims under the Voting Rights Act.

The judge found that the population of Black voters in western Baltimore County is large and compact enough to justify more than one majority Black district; that Black voters in the county are politically cohesive; that the white majority can usually defeat candidates preferred by minority groups; and that the totality of the circumstances show “Black County voters have less opportunity than White County voters to elect candidates of their choice to the Council.”

Griggsby gave the county until March 8 to file a new redistricting map.

The ACLU of Maryland credited community members with pushing for a map that is fairer to Black voters.

“These community voices, strengthened by Judge Griggsby’s order today, are calling on Baltimore County leaders to be better than Alabama, to create districts that value the voices and representation of all residents,” the group said in a statement on behalf of the plaintiffs.

“It’s time for Baltimore County leaders to stop wasting taxpayer money defending an indefensible plan that dilutes the voices of Black voters and refuses to embrace the strong diversity of the County.”