Chestertown Town Council voted 4-1 Monday to move forward with a voting map presented by the Chestertown Redistricting Commission.
The town will begin the process of codifying the new districts by ordinance and notifying residents of their new wards.
“If you were to accept the recommendation of the redistricting committee we will have to do a mass mailing to everyone advising them that we’ve gone through the redistricting process,” said Chestertown Zoning Administrator Kees de Mooy to the Town Council on Monday, March 15. “It will be a big mailing.”
He said while many residents will remain in their wards a “significant” number of residents will move to a different ward.
The new map comes 14 months after the ACLU warned the town in a letter on Jan. 17, 2020 to correct the malaportionment districts and establish a minority majority district.
The ACLU said the corrections had to be made by the town’s 2021 election.
The ACLU letter followed coverage of Chestertown’s 2019 election where it was learned that Ward 3 had a disproportionately higher percentage of registered voters.
The new map corrects malaportioned voting districts that violate the one person, one vote rule established in the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and creates a minority-majority district in Ward 3 that is compliant with the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
Under current law, a majority-minority district must have a minority voting age population of at least 40 percent. Ward 3 reaches 42.35 percent under the Redistricting Commission’s proposal.
The redistricting commission used 2010 Census data to create the new wards because the 2020 data is not available until September and would fail to give the commission enough time to create new maps and inform voters and potential candidates who would seek office.
The new map closely resembles a map recommended by the ACLU last year and also keeps incumbents in their current wards, a legal requirement when establishing new voting districts.
The town had ignored redistricting for 25 years as new subdivisions and population shifts had concentrated a disproportionate percent of Chestertown’s voting age population in Ward 3.
The disparity made a vote in Ward 3 worth half as much as a vote in Ward 1 and created a steeper climb for anyone who would seek election in that ward.
The Supreme Court has interpreted the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to require voting districts be equal in population to the extent possible. Any deviation between the smallest and the largest district in a jurisdiction is constitutionally suspect if it exceeds 10 percent.
After 25 years of failing to reapportion the districts, the population was 70 percent above average in Ward 3 and 26 percent below average in Ward 1, an overall deviation of 96 percent.
The current 1995 ward map was used in the 2019 election, where Wards 2 and 4 seats were on the ballot.
The new map is based on a map the ACLU recommended in their letter to the council dated Jan. 17, 2020.
In supporting the new ward map, Ward 1 Councilman David Foster said the town had dropped the ball in its responsibility to voters.
“We should have collectively recognized this long ago,” he said. “It’s embarrassing.”
He said his ward was the worst offender of the lopsided districts.
“We were the smallest ward, which meant our citizens [in Ward 1] were the most over represented.”
“We should ultimately make it a rule that we look closely after every census,” he said.
Ward 3 Councilman Ellsworth Tolliver was the lone “no” vote on on the new ward map.
“I voted to oppose the Redistricting Project mainly because the information used to draw the maps is based on 2010 data and does not reflect the current status of Ward 3 or any other Ward in the town,” he wrote in an email to the Kent Pilot. He said he had also hoped the ACLU would have extended the deadline to draw the new line until after the 2020 data was available.