The Chestertown Council established a redistricting committee by unanimous vote in February to redraw the districts by the next town election — and so far no progress has been made due to the COVID-19 crisis — and time is ticking away.
The formation of the committee was in response to a letter from the ACLU of Maryland in mid-January that implored the town to correct its malapportioned voting districts and increase black voter strength.
“The existing four-ward election system in Chestertown is severely malapportioned, and also unfairly dilutes black voting strength,” wrote Deborah Jeon, legal director for the ACLU of Maryland, in a letter to Mayor Chris Cerino on Jan. 17. “It is imperative that the problems of Chestertown’s election system be corrected in advance of the next election.”
The ACLU found that Wards 3 and 4 had the largest black populations, 35 and 25 percent respectively, and that Ward 3 was severely malapportioned — having twice the number of registered voters than Ward 1.
Jeon said the wards could be redrawn to include a ward with a larger population of voting age blacks and also achieve proportional representation.
“It is possible to rectify the problems of malapportionment and racial fairness at the same time,” Jeon said.
With time of the essence, the town already has a solution in a map provided by the ACLU in the January letter.
The map was drawn by an ACLU demographer and should pass muster with the constitutional and VRA standards. The map would also protect current incumbents from being pushed out of their wards.
The ACLU lamented in the January letter that a quarter-century had passed without reapportionment.
“Since the current election plan is dated 1995, it appears that the reason for this malapportionment may be that the Town has failed to redistrict periodically to keep pace with its legal and constitutional obligations,” The letter said. “As a result, Chestertown’s current system violates the constitutional principle of one-person, one-vote.”
State law gives no redistricting guidance to municipalities; so local jurisdictions are governed by the 1965 Voting Rights Act, court rulings and the U.S. Constitution.
The Kent Pilot strongly encourages the town and the redistricting committee to seriously consider adopting the ACLU proposed map. It would save time and money and reaffirm the town’s commitment to proportional representation and racial justice.