Redistricting: Ensuring Election Fairness
For decades, the ACLU of Maryland and the national ACLU have been in the forefront of advocating for minority voting rights under the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965. During the 1980s and 1990s, the Maryland ACLU -- often working with local NAACP Branches -- filed a dozen lawsuits across the Eastern Shore, challenging at-large election systems that illegally kept African American candidates from winning election to local government office. As a result of those challenges, history was made in numerous towns and counties around Maryland and the Shore, with court-ordered reform of local election systems resulting in the election of African Americans to municipal governments for the very first time.
Salisbury Redistricting - In Salisbury, one of these ACLU cases was brought in 1986 by Billy Gene Jackson, to challenge the City of Salisbury's at-large election system; That case was resolved by a Consent Decree in 1987, and as a result, the first African American candidates were elected to Salisbury's City Council in the years that followed. Now, twenty-five years later, much has changed in Salisbury, with enormous growth in the diversity of the City's population.
But the current election system sets up structural restrictions upon the electoral influence of the City's minority residents and enhancements of the influence of white residents disproportionate to their numbers in population. So the ACLU and the Wicomico County Branch of the NAACP have partnered to work on election reform, inviting the City to collaborate in seeking federal court approval for restructuring of the election system in a way that will be fair to all Salisbury residents. The ACLU has reopened the Jackson court suit, in order to seek a modification of the Consent Decree and a new election system.
Annapolis Redistricting - At the request of Annapolis Mayor Josh Cohen, the ACLU has been reviewing redistricting proposals for the Annapolis City Council, and working with City planners on improving the plans to meet all legal requirements. The plan recommended by the redistricting committee included three minority opportunity districts among the eight single member aldermanic districts, a fair share given the demographic makeup of the City. The proposed plan, however, had population equality issues, with populations among the districts varying in a way that could have left it vulnerable to legal challenge under the Constitution's one person, one vote requirement. Working with demographer Bill Cooper, the ACLU proposed ways to correct this problem, and the City now appears close to adopting a new redistricting plan that meets all legal requirements.
City of Cambridge Redistricting - Victory! ACLU worked with local activists and City officials to analyze and critique redistricting plans prepared for the City's consideration by the local redistricting committee. Both proposals were flawed in that they packed African-Americans into one historically black ward, maintaining large percentages of white residents in three of the five districts, despite the City's majority minority population. ACLU offered alternative proposals prepared by demographer Bill Cooper, and ultimately a compromise was reached that creates two majority black districts, two majority white districts, and one "swing"district with a roughly equal share of black and white residents.
Somerset County Redistricting - Victory! The ACLU has been closely watching redistricting in Somerset County, where implementation of the No Representation Without Population Act will have a big impact upon the alignment of districts, due to counting of Eastern Correctional Institution inmates at their home addresses, rather than the prison address. Aware of this scrutiny, the County appropriately used adjusted data under the law, but surprised us by proposing a plan that would have cut back the number of majority black districts in the County plan from two to one, seemingly oblivious to the legal problem this would create. The ACLU provided the County with a detailed analysis of why its proposal would violate the Voting Rights Act, and submitted an alternative plan prepared by our demographer, Bill Cooper. The County Commissioners considered this material, delayed a vote on the original proposal, and ultimately adopted a new plan that restores a second majority black district. That plan was approved by the General Assembly, and will be put into place for the 2014 elections.
Date filed: 2012-04-10County: Wicomico, Somerset, Anne Arundel, Dorchester
Attorneys: ACLU of Maryland Legal Director Deborah Jeon, ACLU General Counsel and Brown Goldstein Levy Partner Christopher Brown
Pro Bono Law Firm: Brown Goldstein Levy