By Glynis Kazanjian
The Legislative Black Caucus plans on submitting General Assembly redistricting maps to the Governor’s Redistricting Advisory Committee (GRAC) this week, saying black voters are under-represented in the legislature.
“We can’t operate in the same way we’ve operated in the past because we’re going to run afoul of the Voting Rights Act,” said the Black Caucus Redistricting Committee chair, Del. Aisha Braveboy, D-Prince George’s. “We have to make sure that we keep [the Voting Rights Act] as the foundation for any redistricting effort.”
The Black Caucus wants legislative districts redrawn to reflect a growth in the African American community over the last 10 years. Specifically, they want more Senate seats in Prince George’s County and the Baltimore region.
“Based on the percentage of African Americans in the state, the number of senators should really be around 14 to 15,” Braveboy said. Currently there are nine black senators. “The state has a lot of options. It is not difficult to fix.”
Braveboy offered as an example Prince George’s County legislative districts 24, 25 and 26. She said District 24 has the highest concentration of African American voters of any state senate district in the country, which could be easily spread out. She called the maneuver “packing” and said most people would view it as a violation of the Voting Rights Act.
According to the 2010 census, Prince George’s County is now 80% black and Latino, but four of its eight senators are white, including Senate President Mike Miller, who lives in Calvert County but still represents parts of southern Prince George’s County.
The Black Caucus did not join the lawsuit brought by nine African American citizens in Maryland opposing O’Malley’s congressional redistricting plan. But Braveboy pointed to weaknesses in the new congressional map and is hoping current and projected minority growth will be better represented in the legislative redistricting plan.
“In Montgomery County in particular, we saw dilution of every major minority group,” Braveboy said, pointing out that Congressional Districts 4 and 8 were both majority-minority prior to redistricting. “All of those groups saw their populations broken up and dispersed into three majority white congressional districts.”
“I’m not opining on the legality of the congressional map,” Braveboy said. “That will ultimately be determined in a court of law, but I think at some point the argument will be that the populations were diluted and split up in order to create these majority white districts.”
The Black Caucus submitted written testimony to the GRAC in October, with an agreement that proposed redistricting maps would be forwarded at a later date. Groups representing third party plans were given a little less than two weeks from the time congressional redistricting maps were passed to officially submit their plans.
The Black Caucus redistricting report argued that the state did little to consider racial fairness over incumbent protection.
“The Commission and Governor could have used their discretion to better recognize minority populations . . . but chose instead to prioritize party and incumbent interests,” the report stated.
No legislative map from governor yet
The governor must submit his final legislative redistricting plan to the General Assembly by Jan. 11, the day the legislature convenes. The legislature then has 45 days to modify it, or it becomes law automatically.
The Governor’s Redistricting Advisory Committee has yet to release its proposed map to the public. The five-member GRAC is chaired by Jeanne Hitchcock, the governor’s appointments secretary, and includes Miller, House Speaker Michael Busch, Prince George’s businessman Richard Stewart and former Del. James King, the only Republican.
Some Democrats involved in the redistricting process said it was their understanding the committee was going to release its proposed maps next week with a public hearing scheduled the week before Christmas. But the governor’s press office said there are no set time lines or confirmed dates.