NAACP studies redistricting to boost black candidates Using computers and voting law, NAACP aims to increase election chances for blacks.

October 28, 1991|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,Evening Sun Staff

The facts are simple: A black has never represented the Eastern Shore in the Maryland General Assembly. Likewise Baltimore and Montgomery counties.

And while blacks make up about 25 percent of the state's population, they hold 16 percent of the seats in the legislature.

The NAACP wants to change that.

As officials begin drawing election districts for Maryland's 47 senators and 141 delegates, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People will be watching to make sure the boundaries give black candidates a shot at getting elected.

Armed with sophisticated computers and a strong federal voting law, black leaders think they have the weapons to win their battles.

"We're trying our very best to have a reasonable chance of having 25 percent of the House of Delegates and the Senate be minority," said Arthur Murphy, president of the Baltimore branch of the NAACP and an expert on computerized electioneering. "To do that, we have to begin to get rid of all of our past prejudices of how districts ought to look."

Officials in the NAACP's national office here have drawn maps that identify large black communities across the state.

In and around Salisbury on the Eastern Shore, for example, the NAACP computers have sketched out an area that is home to about 18,000 blacks. That's enough to constitute a 57 percent black majority in a single-member House of Delegates district. Thatcould be enough to elect the Shore's first black legislator, according to Samuel L. Walters, the NAACP's assistant general counsel.

Likewise, in the Takoma Park-Langley Park area in the Washington suburbs, the NAACP's computers have come up with three potential single-member districts that would be dominated by blacks and other minorities. Two of those areas are in Montgomery County.

In Baltimore County, the NAACP is involved in a highly publicized effort to create at least one, and maybe two, single-member, black-dominated districts in the Liberty Road corridor.

Meanwhile, in Prince George's County and Baltimore, NAACP strategists suggest that several more blacks could be elected if lines are drawn the right way.

In all, the NAACP's plan would create the potential for 38 minority-dominated delegate seats and 11 Senate seats. There arenow 23 black delegates and seven black senators.

Maryland is divided into 47 legislative districts. Each district elects one senator and three delegates. Some senatorial districts around the state are divided into smaller subdistricts that elect either one or two members to the House of Delegates.

Until now, these subdistricts have been used to ensure geographic balance in districts that cross county borders. But the NAACP wants to expand the use of subdistricts to concentrate black voter strength and elect more delegates.

The NAACP admits its plans don't take into account where incumbents live or the existence of county lines, two key elements of past redistricting efforts.

But they don't really have to, NAACP officials say. A recent

change in the U.S. Voting Rights Act of 1965 says minorities must be given every chance to elect one of their own, according to NAACP officials.

In the recently concluded congressional redistricting process, state officials set out with one major assumption: that the state needed a new, minority-dominated district to accommodate the black population growth in the Washington suburbs.

A five-member gubernatorial commission that includes the presiding officers of the House of Delegates and Senate is working now on a General Assembly redistricting plan.

In January, Gov. William Donald Schaefer will submit a plan -- presumably one that resembles the commission's recommendation -- to the General Assembly. Lawmakers must agree on changes by Feb. 21 or the governor's plan goes into effect.

Once a map emerges from Annapolis, the NAACP will examine it closely to see if it meets the tests set up in the Voting Rights Act. If not, they plan to take the matter to federal court.

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