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Baltimore County submits new redistricting map, but opponents remain concerned

State Sen. Charles Sydnor III is one of the plaintiffs who has challenged Baltimore County’s redistricting plan. (The Daily Record/File Photo)

The Baltimore County Council filed a new redistricting plan late Tuesday after a federal judge ruled last month that the council’s first proposal likely violated the Voting Rights Act.

The new map creates an additional majority-minority district, but does not create two majority-Black districts, as critics argued it should.

“With the map we submitted today, the opportunities exist now more than ever for people of color to get elected in Baltimore County,” County Council Chairman Julian E. Jones Jr. said in an emailed statement.

Legal fights over redistricting are piling up in Maryland. The Court of Appeals is set to consider four challenges to the statewide legislative redistricting plan later this month. The high court also threw out Prince George’s County Council’s redistricting map earlier this week.

In the Baltimore County dispute, U.S. District Judge Lydia Kay Griggsby on Feb. 22 ordered the county to submit a new map that either included two majority-Black county council districts or “an additional county 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 county argued in Tuesday’s filing that its new proposal does just that. The map keeps District 4 as a majority-Black district and “creates a new majority-minority district in District 2.” District 2’s Black population will increase to more than 41% under the new map and the white population will decrease to 45%, the county council said in its news release.

Civil rights groups who challenged the first map remain concerned, however. In a status report filed on Tuesday before the new proposal was submitted, the plaintiffs in the federal lawsuit claimed that Baltimore County Council declined to provide the new map — or the demographic data that would be needed to evaluate it — until the last minute.

“Plaintiffs fear that Baltimore County will, once again, try to evade judicial review on timeliness grounds after having itself delayed proposing a new map until, literally, the eleventh hour,” the lawyers for the plaintiffs wrote. “We do not know what has taken the County so long.”

The plaintiffs include the Baltimore County NAACP, the League of Women Voters of Baltimore County and Common Cause Maryland, State Sen. Charles Sydnor III, D-Baltimore County, and six Black voters.

Meredith Curtis Goode, the communications director for the ACLU of Maryland, said in an email that a court conference has been scheduled for Friday.

“In the meantime our experts will be reviewing the data finally provided by the county,” she wrote.

The redistricting 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%.

Griggsby granted a preliminary injunction blocking that map from taking effect. Using a multipart test, she concluded that the plaintiffs have a “substantial likelihood of success” on their claims under the Voting Rights Act.

Griggsby 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.”