NAACP will fight redistricting 'Packing' cut possible districts, voting official says

March 01, 1992|By Michael Fletcher | Michael Fletcher,Staff Writer

State leaders of the NAACP said yesterday they plan to file suit challenging Maryland's new legislative redistricting plan, because it dilutes black voting power by packing blacks in several districts.

The new plan creates nine majority black senatorial districts throughout Maryland. But NAACP officials say that as many as 12 majority black senatorial districts, plus a 13th comprised mostly of blacks, Hispanics and Asians, could be drawn in Maryland. Statewide, there are 47 senatorial districts and Maryland is about 25 percent black.

"We are 99 percent sure that we are going to court," said Herbert H. Lindsey, voter registration chairman for the Maryland State Conference of the NAACP.

Mr. Lindsey explained that many of the majority black districts in the plan that became law just over a week ago contain far more than the 65 percent black population generally considered to be needed to ensure black representation in a district. If some of those black residents were taken from those "packed" districts, they could be used to pump up black voter strength in other districts, he said.

Mr. Lindsey said the NAACP's concerns were made known to Gov. William Donald Schaefer, who was said to comment that the packed districts were favored by several black legislative incumbents who felt more political comfort in a "packed" district.

"People who are in power don't want to concede anything," Mr. Lindsey said.

Mr. Lindsey's comments came yesterday at a meeting of the Coalition of Concerned African-American Organizations, a group in Baltimore County.

The meeting was aimed at bringing members up to date on the various redistricting plans and how they affect blacks in Baltimore County. The county has only one black elected official -- a member of the Democratic State Central Committee -- although blacks constitute some 12 percent of the county's population.

The legislative redistricting plan would create a new, mostly black legislative district along the Liberty Road corridor, a fact that pleases members of the coalition. Group members also are happy that the 7th Congressional District includes many black neighborhoods along Liberty Road. The district is represented by Rep. Kweisi Mfume, Maryland's only black congressman.

But the coalition remains unhappy with the seven-seat County Council, where -- if usual racial voting patterns hold -- a black is unlikely to win election for at least the next decade.

The coalition, in conjunction with activists in Essex, is working on a petition drive that would expand the council to nine seats. But that effort, which must be completed by March 8, still needs 3,300 signatures to reach the 10,000 signatures needed to put the council expansion question on the November ballot, said Harold G. Gordon, one of the drive's leaders.

"The irony is that the number of seats has not increased, even as the population of Baltimore County has grown by leaps and bounds," said Mr. Gordon, in explaining the rationale for the petition drive.

If the NAACP goes ahead with its suit against the legislative redistricting plan, it won't be the first legal action taken against it.

Already, a GOP-dominated group has filed suit in U.S. District Court in Baltimore to overturn the plan, claiming it's unfair to blacks, Republicans and Baltimore County residents.

The suit claims that the plan violates both the Maryland and U.S. constitutions, as well as established legal precedents. But the state attorney general's office has said the governor's plan meets legal standards.

A key feature of the new map has Baltimore City and Baltimore County sharing five districts.

City lawmakers say that shared districts are a positive step toward regionalism. But many county legislators are angry, saying that overlapping districts will force the county to share more of the city's problems.

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