FEDERALSBURG, MD – Following the January 23 public hearing on election reform where Town of Federalsburg officials showed, at best, a lackadaisical approach to necessary change, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Maryland, the Caroline County Branch of the NAACP (NAACP), the Caucus of African American Leaders (CAAL), and members of the Federalsburg community have written to Town leaders to remind them of the legal peril the Town faces if it fails to promptly reform the racially discriminatory at-large election system that has prevented any Black person from election to office in the Town’s 200-year history.
“The Town Council meeting was terribly discouraging to members of the African American community,” said Dr. Willie Woods, president of the Caroline County Branch of the NAACP. “Engaging in the process, their hopeful anticipation for at least a decision that evening on a districting plan to remedy the Town’s non-compliance with the Federal Voting Rights Act was shattered. Although still desiring to work collaboratively with the Town, the African American community will not allow the Town, inadvertently or intentionally, to continue diluting their voice or their voting rights.”
“Voter rights restrictions cannot and will not be tolerated,” said Rev. James Jones with the Caucus of African American Leaders. “Looking for alternative measures is unacceptable and deviating from the process will not be beneficial to the present administration of Federalsburg. The public has spoken and agreed on a single member district structure and at this point that is the consideration we look forward to.”
At the January meeting, Town officials reversed course after months of promise that Town officials were working toward ending the at-large election system and undertaking a process of identifying the appropriate number of districts for a district-based system in Federalsburg. In October 2022, Federalsburg’s Black community testified at the Town Council meeting overwhelmingly in support of changing the election system, with Black residents courageously stepping forward to provide heartfelt testimony describing the discriminatory impact the at-large system has had on their lives.
Accordingly, the Council was expected at the January meeting to focus on: 1) deciding which districting proposal best fit the Town’s needs; and 2) charting a path forward for implementing the changes. Instead, members of the Town Council dismissed the urgency Black residents feel, outrageously suggesting that Black residents are themselves to blame for the Town’s all-white Town government, due to their “lack of engagement” with an election system that unlawfully discriminates against them. Officials also raised arguments attempting to delegitimize a district-based solution to the discriminatory election system, contending that districts would segregate the Town and pit districts against each other based on race, ignoring the obvious realities: the Town is racially segregated and elections are racially polarized.
“The Town of Federalsburg must take action, and must take action urgently, to uphold the voting rights of Black residents that have been violated for far too long,” said Nick Taichi Steiner, staff attorney with the ACLU of Maryland. “Federalsburg’s election system has long perpetuated a racial divide, keeping Black voters and candidates out of the political life of their community. All legal options are still on the table.”
The ACLU of Maryland, NAACP, and Caucus of African American Leaders have successfully advocated for district-based reforms to at-large election systems across the Eastern Shore of Maryland, enabling Black voters to finally break through white voting blocs and elect Black candidates to represent them for the first time. Federalsburg’s Black residents deserve nothing less.