NAACP faults district lines on lower Shore

December 21, 1993|By Marcia Myers | Marcia Myers,Staff Writer

NAACP lawyers yesterday attacked the state's legislative district lines on the lower Eastern Shore, arguing that they polarize white voters against black candidates.

The arguments marked the opening of a two-day trial in federal court, where the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is holding a microscope on the voting patterns in two state legislative districts that include Dorchester, Somerset, Wicomico and Worcester counties.

Only nine blacks in those counties have ever been elected to any public office, said attorney Peter Forbes, who is representing the NAACP.

"The election pattern in those four counties shows a stark pattern of exclusion of African-Americans from the political process," he said.

The NAACP claims that the system violates the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which prohibits election practices that dilute the minority vote.

The lawsuit challenges the entire state redistricting plan adopted last year by the General Assembly. But after a hearing on the suit and on a separate challenge filed by the Marylanders for Fair Representation, the court last month decided to proceed with a limited trial focusing only on the NAACP case is it relates to legislative districts 37 and 38.

Lawyers for the state say there is insufficient evidence that the Voting Rights Act has been violated.

In each of the two legislative districts, which cut across multiple counties, three state delegates are elected at large. The winners are those who receive the most votes in each county. Because each county's population is predominantly white, the system reinforces white block votes at the expense of black candidates, according to the NAACP.

The group has proposed creating a single majority black delegate district within the two legislative districts.

Since 1985, 12 such black districts have been created on the Eastern Shore, with 11 of them subsequently electing African-American candidates.

Theodore Arrington, chairman of the political science department at the Charlotte campus of the University of North Carolina, testified yesterday that the NAACP's proposal would not provide a 'sure-fire' guarantee for blacks but would give African-Americans a reasonable chance in the elections process.

"It seems to me uncontestable that the district proposed would provide black voters a better opportunity to participate and be elected," said Mr. Arrington, who studied voting patterns statewide for the NAACP.

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