2021 | Government

County redistricting commission sets guidelines for drawing new map

Members say community outreach will be key in upcoming months

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Montgomery County’s redistricting commission on Wednesday settled on key guidelines for drawing seven new County Council districts for the 2022 elections, with help from the National Conference of State Legislatures. 

Commission Chair Mariana Codier gave other commission members during their meeting a good list to consider using NCSL recommendations:

  • Compactness
  • Contiguity 
  • Equal population
  • Minority representation
  • Preservation of political subdivisions
  • Preservation of community landmarks/areas
  • Preservation of the population centers of prior council districts

Commission members face a Nov. 15 deadline to submit and present a final report to the County Council. Their recommendation will include seven proposed districts, reflecting what county voters approved in a ballot measure in November.

The approved ballot measure increased the number of council districts from five to seven, and the council’s overall membership from seven to 11.

There will be one member in each of the seven districts. The council also will continue to have four at-large members representing the entire county.

The commission also faces the task of not having complete 2020 census data until late September, leaving a tight window to the deadline. But members decided in March to use 2019 estimate data, which they hope will be close to whatever the 2020 data reveal. 

On Wednesday, commission members decided to keep all of the NCSL’s recommendations as guidelines, except for the one describing population centers.

“If we were to preserve the cores of the other ones, it would be very, very hard to get smart districts around the two that we’re adding,” commission member Nilmini Rubin said. “I think it ties our hands. I certainly appreciate that idea, I just don’t think it’s the right idea for our specific redistricting project.”

Commission members will attend training in the coming months to learn how to draw new proposed maps using existing precinct lines and other geographic measures.

They emphasized that it will be important to educate as many community organizations as possible about the process.

Commission member Valerie Ervin, a former County Council member, said it will be important to connect with normally underserved areas, like Black churches.

“It is just a fact that it’s a tiny percentage of our community that participates in these activities, so what are we going to do as representatives [to fix that]? … I guarantee you there are people who are going to say, ‘I didn’t know there was things that were going on.’ … And we will get people who challenge us on that,” Ervin said.

Commission member Samuel Statland volunteered to lead the effort on community outreach, but encouraged his colleagues to contact any organization they think of.

He suggested there be seven community meetings before the Nov. 15 deadline: two upcounty, two midcounty and three downcounty or in the eastern part of the county.

Statland said he’s had about 40 years of experience doing similar types of outreach, including explaining to Leisure World residents that their precinct — which once had 4,000 voters — needed to be split.

“We should have seven public meetings for transparency. … l think we should attend or offer to attend any group that wants to hear from us,” Statland said. “We don’t want to hear at the end of this process: ‘I didn’t hear about it.’”

The commission’s next meeting is scheduled for July 14 at 5 p.m. 

Steve Bohnel can be reached at steve.bohnel@bethesdamagazine.com