On August 6, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 with Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders in attendance. Source: National Archives (NARA).

Much has happened in 2020 on the front lines of racial justice reform. One unfinished piece of business is the long overdue adoption of a new voting district map that complies with the Equal Protection Clause of Fourteenth Amendment — and provides for expansion of minority representation under the mandates of the Voting Rights Act.

Our reporting during the 2019 Town Council race found that Ward 3 had nearly twice the number of registered voters than Ward 1 and about twice the population. This staggering imbalance means that a vote in Ward 3 is worth half as much as  a vote in Ward 1.

The Fourteenth Amendment guarantees equal apportionment of voting districts – meaning one person, one vote – and the Voting Rights Act creates opportunities for minorities to win elected office.

In a letter sent to the Town Council last January, the ACLU raised concerns about the current situation and offered a proposed map that complied with the Equal Protection Clause and increased opportunities for more minority representation on the council in keeping with mandates of the Voting Rights Act.  The map also keeps incumbents in their wards.

The last time the election map was updated was in 1995. Today, a quarter century later, residential development in Wards 3 and 4 means those districts logically grew out of proportion compared to Wards 1 and 2.

Many jurisdictions adopt ordinances that mandate formation of a redistricting committee to consider election districts based on updated census data. Chestertown has no such mechanism.

Back in July, the Kent Pilot reminded readers that time was of the essence and encouraged town leadership to adopt the map offered by the ACLU. Time is even more of the essence now. The next town election – for Mayor and Wards 1 and 3 – will be held on November 2, 2021, now less than a year away.

The public is entitled to know their ward boundaries and potential candidates should have time to assess any changes to their ward location. Adopting the new election map would be the capstone to The Year of Action.

The Kent Pilot