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Baltimore County redistricting map gets OK from federal judge

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

A federal judge has approved a new redistricting map submitted by Baltimore County Council after voting rights advocates successfully challenged the county’s first map.

Baltimore County Council announced the judge’s approval in a news release Thursday. As of 6 p.m., U.S. District Judge Lydia Kay Griggsby’s order had not been docketed in federal court.

“On behalf of my council colleagues, we are very satisfied the court recognized the commitment to diversity and hard work of the council in approving our latest redistricting plan,” Baltimore County Council Chairman Julian E. Jones Jr. said. “As we have seen all over the country recently, redistricting is an extremely difficult process, and my colleagues and I worked together in crafting a map that was acceptable to the court, while also staying true to the will of our communities.”

The plaintiffs included 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 were also named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

The plaintiffs’ legal team said in a statement Thursday that the proposed map is better, but “not enough to fulfill the racial justice requirements of the Voting Rights Act.

“The facts remain that the County has almost one-third Black voters and almost half voters of color, and yet six out of seven council districts will continue to have majority white voters. How can that be fair? It’s not. We are considering our next steps.”

The approved map creates an additional majority-minority district in the county but did not create two majority-Black districts, as critics argued it should.

The map keeps District 4 as a majority-Black district and increases District 2’s Black population to more than 41%. The white population in District 2 will decrease to 45% under the new map, the county council said.

The County Council said in its news release that Griggsby agreed the new District 2 “enhances the already existing ‘coalition’ and ‘cross-over’ voting to enable Black citizens a meaningful opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice.”

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 had 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.”