A year in the making, the Chestertown Council gave final approval Monday for the new voting districts recommended by the Chestertown Redistricting Committee.
The vote was 3-1, with Ward 3 Councilman Ellsworth Tolliver voting against.
The new voting districts are reapportioned to comply with the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment–one man, one vote–and create more opportunities for minority candidates under the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
The year-long effort by the redistricting committee came after 26 years of new subdivisions and population shifts that went ignored through two Censuses and caused the districts to become seriously malapportioned.
The new districts are also a result of the ACLU’s demands last year that the town reapportion its districts and create more opportunities for minority candidates. Failure of the town to correct the districts could have resulted in litigation.
Ward 3 had ballooned in population and had twice the number of registered voters. This came to light during the 2019 town election when Wards 2 and 4 were on the ballot.
In the 3-1 vote, Tolliver was the lone vote against the new districts. Tolliver did not return calls for this story, but he expressed last year that the ACLU had overreached in demanding the town create more opportunities for black candidates.
“All politics is local, I think in this particular instance the ACLU has overreached in its assumption that there needs to be this black voting block in Chestertown,” Tolliver said at the Jan. 27, 2020 meeting. “I agree with the opportunity to have parity in the wards in terms of [population]. I’m not on board with this thing about having this voting block that is dedicated to trying to elect an African American per se.”
The town’s new wards were drawn using 2010 data due to delays caused by the former administration of Donald Trump.
“It’s not a perfect situation,” said Chestertown Town Manager Bill Ingersoll. “We had hoped to get the 2020 Census figures.”
Ingersoll said time had run out to wait on the 2020 Census figures with the 2021 town election just months away.
“We are changing boundaries significantly,” he said. “We have just about enough time to get this done and get everyone aware of what ward they are in before the November election.”
Ward 1 Councilman David Foster said that it should be made law to evaluate the ward boundaries for redistricting after every Census.
Ingersoll said this could be achieved through amending the town charter or by passing an ordinance.