Berlin Looking To State For Election Redistricting Help

BERLIN — A small population bump in Berlin will require the town to re-draw election districts to maintain consistent citizen representation, but the town council is not satisfied with preliminary plans.
Since the proposed redrawn boundaries would either remove incumbents from their seats or dramatically alter the populations of at least two districts, the council has decided to reach out to the Maryland Department of Planning, State Clearinghouse, Re-districting Office (MDP) for assistance.
As it stands, the town has been basing its districts off of 2004 revisions. Census data for Berlin shows that the population has increased from 4,385 in 2010 to 4,496 in 2013. This has resulted in a little havoc with election districts, said Mary Bohlen, Deputy Town Administrator.  It’s not so much the raw population increase as the concentration of the spike.
“So, as you can see in looking through those numbers over the last 10 years, the population for those districts has gotten quite out of whack,” she told the council. “In a town the size of Berlin, it only takes an addition of 10 or 15 houses in one area to really throw the numbers off.”
Housing projects like The Cottages at Berlin and Decatur Farms had big impacts on the districts. The goal now is to get all four regular districts up to the ideal number of 1,124 residents. Currently, District 1 sits at 1,038 residents; District 2 at 1,292; District 3 at 1,383; and District 4 at 783.
The town developed three plans to equalize population, which Bohlen shared with the council this week. The first plan was only minor revisions of the numbers while Plans 2 and 3 were more comprehensive. However, both had major drawbacks.
“No matter what, re-districting is going to throw people off-balance,” Bohlen said.
Plan 2 would shift the boundaries of Districts 3 and 4, which are the two furthest from the ideal 1,124. The goal is to bring everyone within 5 percent, or 56 residents, of that number. But the plan would change the district lines to the point where Councilmembers Elroy Brittingham and Dean Burrell, representing Districts 3 and 4, respectively, would no longer live in their districts, effectively unseating two long-time incumbent councilmen.
Plan 3, which was the town’s preferred plan, would also drastically alter Districts 3 and 4 but would not unseat either incumbent. Instead, Burrell and Brittingham would basically flip-flop their districts, keeping their designation but swapping many of their constituents.
“The town, in whatever form, cannot change your district,” Bohlen told Burrell. “Only the people can do that … what we’re effectively trying to do is move the district boundaries around you to effectively keep you in the same district number.”
Brittingham was absent from this week’s work session but Burrell made his dissatisfaction with the plans clear.
“This just changes too much for me. Plans 2 and 3, it just does too much … I don’t know these people. These people don’t know me,” he said.
The rest of the council was likewise wary of such a big change.
“It seems like there ought to be at least one option where both council people can stay in their district,” said Mayor Gee Williams.
The council decided to reach out to MDP for assistance in balancing Census data without resorting to any kind of district swap. MDP has access to much more sophisticated population manipulation software, noted Bohlen, and should be able to help develop a better map. Besides keeping Districts 3 and 4 more or less intact, Councilwoman Lisa Hall also requested minor tweaks to her proposed district to keep her entire street as part of the parcel.