Circuit Court judge reverses approval of redistricting map
By Hannah Marszalek
On Jan. 31, Circuit Court Judge William Snoddy ordered that the Prince George’s County Council’s widely disputed redistricting map be immediately withdrawn. His decision came just days after four county residents filed suit in an attempt to reverse adoption of the map.
The lawsuit against Prince George’s County argued that the use of a council resolution to approve the map, formally known as the Council Redistricting Plan, in November, was improper. By using a resolution rather than a bill to pass the map, the county council bypassed receiving approval from the county executive, an action in violation of state law, according to a memo from Councilmember Tom Dernoga (District 1).
District boundaries must be redrawn every ten years, based on the U.S. Census, in order to ensure equal populations among districts. The county appointed a commission in order to create the required map. That commission sought public input, and produced a map which had minimal changes to the existing borders.
In mid-October, Councilmembers Derrick Davis and Mel Franklin proposed two alternate maps, claiming their maps incorporated the newest census data more accurately than the County Redistricting Commission’s map did. Krystal Oriadha, Eric Olson and Tamara Brown, each of whom had considered running for county council seats, were all designated in different districts, and the City of College Park was divided in half between two districts. Many county residents accused the commission of gerrymandering, but despite the widespread public outrage, county councilmembers adopted Franklin’s map, with a 6-3 vote, at their Nov. 16 meeting.
Eric Olson, who served on the county council from 2006 to 2014, paid for the lawsuit through his campaign, according to The Washington Post. Olson had already announced his intention to run for the District 3 seat in the summer of 2022, but the adopted map redesignated Olson’s residence to District 1. Since a person must live in a district for at least one year before running for office in that district, the approved map deemed Olson ineligible to run in the upcoming election.
“Apart from disadvantaging political opponents, Vansville, Lakeland, College Park and Suitland residents became innocent bystanders whose communities were negatively affected,” Dernoga wrote, in his memo. “One may hope that they finally put their personal political desires aside and put an end to this public embarrassment.”
Snoddy ordered that the county council use the County Redistricting Commission’s proposed map to prevent gerrymandering. Prince George’s County’s attorney Rajesh Kumar filed a notice of appeal on behalf of the council on Feb. 1.