2021 | Government

Redistricting Commission’s proposed map has almost all minority-majority County Council districts

Panel preparing to send its map choice to the council for hearing, review

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This story was updated at 11:45 a.m. Nov. 4, 2021, to correct the number of members currently on the Montgomery County Council.

A special panel appointed by the Montgomery County Council has proposed a council map that makes six of the seven new districts minority-majority in the numbers of Hispanic, Asians and African American residents in each one.

The Redistricting Commission said it considered the “historic growth” of the county’s racial and ethnic minorities in drawing the new political map.

However,  African Americans, Latinos or Asians by themselves are not in the majority in any of the proposed districts. The newly redrawn 1st District — which includes Bethesda, Friendship Heights, Chevy Chase, and Potomac — would continue to be composed of a majority of non-Hispanic white residents.

The results of the 2020 U.S. census found that the county’s population grew by more than 91,000 — from 971,284 to 1,062,710 — and became more diverse over the preceding decade, with nearly 60 percent of the county’s residents identifying as Latino, Black or Asian.

The county is redrawing its map of County Council districts to reflect population shifts and to expand the number of districts from five to seven, which voters approved last year in a referendum.

That means the number of residents in each district will shrink from about 212,500 to about 151,800. The number of County Council members will increase from nine to 11, including four at-large members.

        A demographic breakdown of the seven County Council districts in a proposed map.

In conjunction with the nation’s decennial population count, the lines of political districts are redrawn every 10 years. Congressional districts and General Assembly districts will also be altered before next year’s elections through a state process.

The county’s Redistricting Commission, appointed to redraw the boundaries of the council districts in Montgomery County, voted 6-5 to approve its final map. The commission is expected to also greenlight, at a meeting on Wednesday evening, an accompanying report that explains how it drew that map.

However, at least one of the 11 redistricting commissioners is not happy with the way the new district lines were drawn.

Jason Makstein said he is concerned about upcounty representation with the proposed map. He said part of the issue was a vote from an earlier meeting in which commissioners decided that any map must include Rockville and Gaithersburg in the same district.

That decision limited the way the rest of the map could be drawn, Makstein said. And the current proposal does split up certain demographics upcounty, he said.  

“It splits apart many Asian Pacific Islander communities of interest, which is a major concern because we’re tasked to look at it through a racial equity lens,” said Makstein, a North Potomac resident.

He said many people upcounty have told him they have historically felt they are underrepresented on the council.

The Redistricting Commission’s efforts to redraw the County Council districts have provoked about 400 public comments that were submitted. Pamela Dunn, the panel’s senior legislative analyst, said the comments are not currently available to the public or the press.

In its redistricting report that will be considered on Wednesday, the commission said it followed the dictates of federal laws, including landmark civil rights legislation called the Voting Rights Act, and Supreme Court rulings on court challenges to redistricting.

The panel said it had respect for political subdivisions, kept together communities that had common interests and took into consideration the interests of incumbents.

It also said the panel avoided diluting the political power of communities of color by avoiding the dispersal of people of color into districts in which they constitute an ineffective minority of voters, a practice known as “cracking,” or from the concentration of people of color into districts where they constitute an excessive majority, a practice known as “packing.”

“The Commission considered race and ethnicity as a factor in redistricting, but it was not the predominant motivating factor for drawing the lines that separate districts,” the report said.

The new map creates an eastern district where the non-Hispanic African American population is the largest ethnic/racial group. That’s District 5, which includes Four Corners, Kemp Mill, White Oak, Hillandale, Calverton, Colesville, Fairland, Burtonsville, Spencerville, Layhilll and Bel Pre.  

In the new proposed District 6, which is centered in Wheaton, Hispanics would be the largest ethnic/racial group.

The redistricting commission will soon send the proposed map to the Montgomery County Council, which will hold a public hearing on the redistricting plan on Nov. 18. The council can make changes to the plan.

The proposed County Council district map, approved by the county’s commission on redistricting.