The 'oops' factor in redistricting City precinct has just 31 voters

map is read wrong in Arundel.

November 12, 1991|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,Evening Sun Staff

Congressional redistricting has produced a curious pimple on Baltimore's 7th District that will force the city to set up a precinct for just 31 voters -- at a cost of $1,000 an election.

And in Anne Arundel County, a map-reading glitch has put 4,400 Fort Meade area residents in the wrong congressional district.

Oddly, the city's tiny problem may be harder to fix than Anne Arundel's.

In their zeal to create equal population counts, redistricters dipped down into the 3rd Congressional District and added an arrow-shaped, two-block section of East Baltimore to the 7th, splitting a precinct in the process.

The 7th, which stretches through West Baltimore and into Baltimore County, is represented by Democrat Kweisi Mfume. The 3rd District curls around the 7th like an inverted "C" and includes parts of Baltimore and Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Howard counties. It is represented by Democrat Benjamin L. Cardin.

The affected area is a generally rundown section of the 1st Precinct of the 3rd Ward -- mostly empty lots, derelict buildings, small businesses and about a block and a half of rehabilitated rowhouses along East Baltimore Street and East Fairmount Avenue.

The chunk the mapmakers appended to the 7th District is bounded by Fayette Street on the north, Fairmount Avenue and Baltimore Street on the south, Spring and Eden streets on the west, and Dallas Street on the east, including about half of Ten Pin Alley.

Eighty-seven people were counted there in the 1990 census, according to Maryland's Office of Planning. Thirty-one are registered to vote.

Gene M. Raynor, state administrator of election laws, said the redistricting plan will require creation of a new precinct.

"We'll have to set up a polling place for 31 people," Raynor said, which will cost the city about $1,000 an election.

"It borders on the preposterous," he said.

The affected 1st Precinct voters can't simply be patched into the 7th Congressional District because they would have to vote in the 5th Ward. And state law prohibits moving a precinct from one ward to another.

The General Assembly can change the boundaries of wards, but is reluctant to do so because ward boundaries are used in legal property descriptions, among other things. Baltimore's ward boundaries were basically fixed in 1898. The last major change ++ came in 1918 when Wards 25, 26, 27 and 28 were added to accommodate the city's outer neighborhoods.

Raynor said he could envision elections in the new precinct when very few people would vote.

"If 30 percent of those registered [actually] vote, as in Tuesday's election," Raynor said, "only nine people would vote."

The sanctity of the ballot might be breached, he said, if only one or two people turn out and they vote for the same candidate. Everyone would know how they voted.

The 7th District bump, like the Arundel bulge, arose out of planningzeal in trying to meet Voting Rights Act requirements for numerical equality among congressional districts. Maryland has fine-tuned the process so that the spread between districts averages less than 10 people.

In Anne Arundel County, about 4,400 people at Fort Meade dropped through the crack between legislative intent and legislative language.

In comparing the General Assembly's bill with the redistricting map lawmakers used in their deliberations, the Anne Arundel County election board found that 4,400 people in Precinct 5 of the 4th County Election District were put in the 3rd Congressional District when they belonged in the 1st. An awful imbalance in the numerical equality plan was created.

"It was a just a mistake in drafting the law," said Nancy Crawford, election administrator in Anne Arundel County.

Somebody read a map wrong in writing the bill. About 300 registered voters are affected.

Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. has ruled that legislative intent cannot be frustrated by mistakes in the letter of the law.

The 4,000 people at Fort Meade will be put back into the 1st District where they belong. And the General Assembly is expected to correct the language when it convenes in January.

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