A coalition of more than a dozen community groups along the Liberty Road corridor and the NAACP are rallying to force a recently passed plan to redraw Baltimore County Council's seven districts.
Christine Cypress, president of the Liberty Road Community Council, told reporters during a Tuesday news conference at the Randallstown Community Center that the coalition hopes to force the bill onto the 2012 ballot.
"We believe the entire county should have a chance to participate in deciding how their council districts are split," Cypress said.
The group hopes to collect the 28,826 signatures and force the law to a referendum vote. Organizers said the group has created a website it plans to use to distribute petitions to communities across the county.
"We're going to need the entire county if we're going to be successful," said Ella White Campbell, executive director of the Liberty Road Community Council.
Visitors of the website will be able to download and sign petitions. The site does not use an electronic signature petition similar to a website successfully used by a group opposed to a state law that provides in-state tuition to some illegal immigrants.
"We stayed away from that," said Rod Hart, designer of the community association site.
Getting the bill onto the ballot won't be easy. The time table is shorter than the one in state law.
The county's charter requires a group to collect the signatures of registered county voters equivalent to 10 percent of the total number of votes cast for governor in the county in the last gubernatorial election.
The group has 45 days to collect at least one-third of those signatures—about 9,513— by December. If that deadline is met, the remaining two-thirds of the signatures would have to be turned in 30 days later.
Long-time council observers said last week that, if successful, the group could be the first to challenge a law passed by the council by placing it on the ballot.
In 2000, a group of county residents led by the communities of Dundalk, Middle River and Randallstown, successfully forced a state law expanding the county's condemnation powers to the ballot. The bill, known as Senate Bill 509, was defeated by a nearly a 3-1 margin.
The council approved a plan Monday night that redraws all seven districts based on population from the 2010 Census. The county has grown to about 805,000 people—about 50,000 more than than 10 years ago.
The county executive cannot veto the redistricting bill but voters can force it to a referendum vote.
"We have 45 days to do this and we're already on day two," Campbell said.
At issue for Cypress and others is the shifting of a precinct that votes at Woodlawn High School from a majority-minority district currently represented by Councilman Ken Oliver to one represented by Councilman Tom Quirk.
"It feels like something was done to us," Cypress said. She added that the change dilutes the voting power of African-Americans on the westside who are beginning to sense their own growing political power, evidenced particularly in the 2002 and 2010 county executive elections.
Cypress said the move also eliminates expected economic development activities centered around the Social Security complex in Woodlawn.
"It takes those federal dollars that would lean to this district and focuses then on the 1st District and Catonsville," Cypress said.
A decade ago, Oliver's district was drawn to give the council its first African-American member. Minorities currently make up about 80 percent of the 4th District—a figure that would only change slightly when the new districts take effect in 2014.
Oliver opposed the switch but ultimately withdrew an amendment that would have switched the precinct back to his district.
Speaking after the council vote, Oliver said he would likely support the efforts of the Liberty Road Community Council.
"I've always been a supporter of things Ella wanted to do," Oliver said.
Cypress said the group plans to reach out to other communities across the county, particularly the Loch Hill neighborhood in Towson.
Community leaders in Towson said Monday they were disappointed that the plan moved their neighborhood of about 200 people out of a district that represents the majority of Towson. As of 2014, the neighborhood would become part of a district that includes Middle River and Parkville.