Civil rights rule may redraw map for Assembly NAACP proposal calls for 35 largely 'minority' districts

November 10, 1991|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,Annapolis Bureau of The Sun

ANNAPOLIS -- Politics in Maryland could change substantially after this year's legislative redistricting, a process that appears likely to produce more minority representation in the General Assembly and even stimulate regional government.

The new district maps, drawn to reflect 1990 Census data, will help blacks win representation denied them by previous political map drawing which diluted their voting power, according to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. "We can't wait another 10 years," said Clifford J. Collins, voter education director for the national office of the NAACP.

Following dictates of the 1964 Voting Rights Act amended in 1982, Mr. Collins has submitted a plan -- one of more than 40 now under study -- that would create 35 new senator-and-delegate districts with a minority population of 50 percent or more.

"It's long overdue," he said. "We're trying to catch up with what we should have had 10 years ago."

The entire state will be affected by the NAACP plan and others adhering to the civil rights law, according to Benjamin L. Brown, chairman of the Governor's Redistricting Advisory Committee.

"If you draw these districts in one place you probably have to draw them all over," he said. "It wouldn't be plausible -- or legal -- not to do it."

When the advisory committee agrees on new district boundaries, it will recommend them to the governor, who will then adopt them or change them before introducing his bill in January's session of the General Assembly.

Maryland currently has 47 senatorial districts within which the voters elect one senator and three delegates. The voting rights law requires that -- if the minority population of an area has reached 66 percent -- it must have a senatorial district in which blacks or other minority group members have good prospects of electing minority representatives.

In areas where the minority concentration is substantial but not as dense, the law requires creation of single-member delegate districts in which a minority delegate could reasonably expect to win.

The law also requires consideration of geographical compactness and voting patterns -- whether, for example, blacks and whites of the area traditionally cross racial lines when voting.

The district lines will be dictated for the most part by concentrations of population and, therefore, the new districts almost certainly will cross city or county lines. This is expected to lead to political and governmental alliances that had seemed difficult if not impossible before.

The first comprehensive version of a statewide legislative map, offered Wednesday by the Maryland Republican Party, would create four such shared districts in the Baltimore region -- one linking Anne Arundel County with South Baltimore and three others joining the city with Baltimore County, one on the east and two on the west side of the city.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer and other state officials have said they believe a fusing of city and county districts would bolster Baltimore's sagging political fortunes. With a continuing loss of population, the city could lose two of its nine senators and six delegates. New minority districts extending across the jurisdictional lines could help Baltimore retain some voting power in the assembly.

Under the GOP plan:

* District 7 would elect a senator and three delegates in an area comprised largely of Dundalk in Baltimore County but including a 10,000-voter slice of the city near the port of Baltimore.

* District 11 would link single-member delegate voting in largely white Roland Park and Hampden in the city with a two-delegate district covering Pikesville, Owings Mills, Reisterstown and Northeast Baltimore.

* District 31, linking parts of the city and Anne Arundel County, would include Cherry Hill in a single-member minority-influence district.

* District 42 would link a 58 percent black, single-member delegate district in Baltimore County's Liberty Road corridor northwest of the city with an adjacent two-member city district.

Notwithstanding the views of Mr. Schaefer and other proponents of regional and metropolitan cooperation, many county residents have indicated at public hearings and elsewhere that they are not receptive to living in districts that include parts of the city.

The law, however, may be the governing force.

"They may not have a choice," said American University professor Alan Lichtman, an expert on redistricting plans. City or county lines, generally, cannot under the voting rights law be a barrier to formation of minority districts.

Mr. Lichtman said he believes it is essentially impossible to draw a redistricting plan without first deciding where and how many minority districts will be drawn. Maryland, he said, is one of only about five states which still elect state representatives from multi-member districts.

The Republican plan would create a total of 10 minority districts with an additional five "minority-influence" districts. In the latter, the minority population would range from 30 percent to 40 percent.

Neither the GOP plan nor the NAACP plan is likely to be adopted in full, Mr. Collins and the Republican leaders conceded, but both proposals are expected to influence the shape of the maps that are finally adopted.

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