Message from County Council Member Jolene Ivey
You may have heard about the current controversy concerning the redrawing of the boundary lines for the County Council’s nine districts. I’d like to take this opportunity to go into some detail to explain what is happening, and explain why the redistricting process is important.
The County Council approves land use matters and county laws. Because fair redistricting is fundamental to our democracy, the map the County Council approves matters.
The County Charter requires that every ten years, after the U.S. Census is completed, the County Council must appoint a Redistricting Commission to propose and submit to the Council proposed new district boundaries. The new district lines the Council eventually approves will go into effect for the 2022 elections, and stay in effect for ten years, until after the next U.S. Census.
The required redistricting procedure is determined by Section 305 of the County Code.
The Redistricting Commission
The three members of the Redistricting Commission were appointed by the County Council on January 28, 2021. Over the course of the year the Commission held eleven virtual public meetings open to the public, and two virtual public hearings.
The three Commission members are Pastor James Robinson of the Tree of Life Christian Ministries, Chair; Dr. Charlene Mickens Dukes, President Emeritus of Prince George’s Community College; and Mr. David C. Harrington, the President of the Prince George’s County Chamber of Commerce. The consultant to the Redistricting Commission was Dr. Nathanial Persily of Stanford Law School.
Due to delays caused by the pandemic and the Trump administration’s Commerce Department, the U.S. Census Bureau did not deliver the population data to be used in redistricting by the required date of March 31, 2021. The data came instead, finally, in August 2021.
Because delivery of the official census data was delayed, the Commission decided that it would be in the best interest of the County to move forward with the redistricting process utilizing projected census population data. On August 16, 2021, the Commission finally received the official data.
The Commission was able to make the needed adjustments to the estimated data they had initially used, and on August 30th the Commission voted unanimously (3-0) to adopt their Plan and Report and submitted it to the Council on September 1st.
Information on the Redistricting Commission can be found here: Redistricting Commission Work, Public Documents
The Commission’s Process and the Requirements of the Law
By law, to meet one-person one-vote criteria, there cannot be a variation of more than 5% among the districts. In the proposed map presented by the Commission to the Council, the deviation is about 4%. The Commission’s goal was to be under 4.5%.
Like all jurisdictions, Prince George’s County is subject to Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Although important parts of the Voting Rights Act were gutted by the Supreme Court in the 2013 Shelby County decision, Section 2 still applies.
Section 2 is intended to prevent race-based vote dilution. That is not a problem in Prince George’s with the current or proposed districts.
The Redistricting Commission stated that they created a plan that did not dilute the vote of any racial group, saying it wanted to ensure that it did not deprive any racial or ethnic group of an equal opportunity to elect candidates of its choice.
(Such dilution can occur either through over concentration or excessive dispersion of a racial group; that is not an issue here).
Since there was no legal challenge to the 2011 redistricting plan passed by the County Council last time, the Commission decided to use the existing districts as a starting point to prepare the new plan. In doing so, the Commission was guided by five principles: 1) a "least-change" plan, 2) boundaries that are contiguous, 3) avoid splitting precincts, 4) districts that have no greater than 4.5% population deviation, and 5) consideration of assets or community interests that connect each district.
As it turns out, there isn’t much change between the current districts and the new map proposed by the Commission. The following are the relatively minor changes proposed by the Commission’s proposal:
To rectify uneven population numbers in Districts 1 and 2, two precincts (4,075 people) in Adelphi were moved from District 1 to District 2.
To bring District 3 under 4.5% deviation from other districts, one precinct (2,205 people) in Glenn Dale was moved from District 3 to District 4. (This unites almost all of Glenn Dale into District 4).
To rectify uneven numbers in Districts 6 and 7, two precincts (6,040 people) in District Heights were moved from District 6 to District 7. (This change not only fixes the population shortfall in District 7, but it also fully unites the two precincts that form District Heights).
For more information about the timeline as outlined in Section 305 of the County Charter go to: https://pgccouncil.us/840/2021-PRINCE-GEORGES-COUNTY-COUNCIL-REDIS
The Surprise Map Introduced October 14th
The Council’s options are to accept and adopt the Commissions map as submitted, or decide to consider and adopt an alternative map. I thought the Commission had done a good job, and I fully expected the County Council to adopt the map submitted by the Commission on September 1st.
Instead, and as a surprise to four members of the Council, on October 14th in the County Council’s Committee of the Whole, Council Member Derrick Leon Davis proposed a brand-new map that I and three others of my colleagues had not seen before. His map was very different from the one proposed by the Redistricting Commission, which the public had seen and been able to comment on at the public hearings. The surprise Davis map was drawn behind closed doors with no involvement of the public or some members of Council.
The debate in Council on October 14th was intense but short, as there was little opportunity to suggest changes and no willingness by the sponsor and the other five supporters of the map to consider any changes or amendments.
The lack of transparency was appalling. The Council approved the map proposed by Council Member Davis by a vote of 6-4. Those opposing it were Tom Dernoga, Dannielle Glaros, Monique Anderson-Walker and I. Those voting for it were Chair Calvin Hawkins, Vice Chair Deni Taveras, Mel Franklin, Todd Turner, Sydney Harrison, and Derrick Leon Davis.
To view the discussion and vote during the October 14th Committee of the Whole click HERE and go to the 3:47:45 mark.
To view th map proposed by Council Member Davis that was approved October 14th click here:https://bit.ly/DavisMap
A news article on the October 14th map from Maryland Matters can be found HERE.
The October 19th Amended Map
Because of the objections by the University of Maryland, the Davis map supporters on Council made some changes and passed an amendment to modify the original Davis map on October 19th to keep the University in District 3.
Other than making an accommodation to satisfy the request of the University, the map contains the flaws of the October 14th Davis map, and makes its unfairness and intention even clearer.
To see the October 19th County Council meeting where the Davis map was amended, click HERE and go to the 14:27 mark.
A news article on the amended Davis map from Maryland Matters can be found HERE.
The Impact of the Maps
Keep in mind that our County Charter requires that candidates wanting to run for County Council must live in their district for one year prior to running in a primary election. The Council primary election is in June 2022. This new Davis map will impact multiple individuals across the County who are already running for County Council next year or are planning to, because the law requires any candidate to have lived within the new boundaries since last June.
To avoid such a situation, that is one reason why the Redistricting Commission’s map only changed boundaries when it was necessary for population balance. The following map shows where three potential candidates for the next election reside, what districts they expected to run in, and the districts where the Davis map would put them.
Map source: D.W. Rowlands
The Council’s Upcoming Decision The final decision has not yet been made. The two maps will be considered by the County Council on November 16th, so you still have time to make your voice and opinion heard.
To say I’m disappointed in my colleagues who voted for the last-minute Davis redistricting map would be an understatement. If you have concerns about the Davis map or the process how it was created, I hope you contact your County Council member and the two At-Large members before the November 16th Public Hearing to express your opinion on both the process and the district lines, no matter what your opinion is. It is best to contact the members as soon as possible, before their minds have been set. Democracy works only if the voices of the people are heard and listened to.
If the Council chooses not to accept the Davis alternative map to the one created by the Commission, then the Commission’s map will be the one that will go into effect.
I encourage you to sign up to speak during the hearing. To testify at the hearing, you must sign up via the Council’s eComment portal. You need to sign up before 3:00 p.m. on the day BEFORE the meeting. Comments can also be submitted through the portal. To sign up to speak visit: https://pgccouncil.us/458/Public-Hearing-Notices-Sign-Up-to-Speak. Currently the portal does not yet have the November 16th sign-up and comment tab posted, but it should soon. Our government works best when the citizens’ voices are heard and listened to. Let your County Council member and the two At Large members know your opinion. Thank you.
County Council Member Contact Information:
Mel Franklin Council Member (At-Large)
Calvin S. Hawkins, II Chair, Council Member (At-Large)
Thomas E. Dernoga Council Member (District 1)
Deni Taveras Vice-Chair, Council Member (District 2)
Dannielle M. Glaros Council Member (District 3)
Todd M. Turner Council Member (District 4)
Derrick L. Davis Council Member (District 6)
Rodney C. Streeter Council Member (District 7)
Monique Anderson-Walker Council Member (District 8)
Sydney J. Harrison Council Member (District 9)