Conversation on historic election in Somerset County Maryland

The first African-American elected official in Somerset County Maryland explains how prison-based gerrymandering delayed electoral progress in his county.

by Peter Wagner, February 24, 2011

Last week Maryland’s WYPR Midday program with Dan Rodricks hosted a fascinating 49 minute-long discussion about Somerset County Maryland:

Craig Mathies is the first African-American ever elected to help run Somerset County, despite its one-third African-American population. A newly elected County Commissioner, Mathies joins Dan in Studio A to talk about his historic election and the challenges that lie ahead. Also joining us two other key players in the drama: Kirkland Hall, president of the Somerset County NAACP, and Deborah Jeon, legal director of the Maryland Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union

Somerset County was a central part of the campaign against prison-based gerrymandering in Maryland because, as we explained in a fact sheet:

40% of the county is African-American, but an African-American has never been elected to county office. The county settled a Voting Rights Act lawsuit in the mid-1980s and agreed to draw a majority African-American district. Unfortunately, a new large prison in the remedial district resulted in the African-American resident population being split among multiple districts. An effective African-American district could be drawn if the prison population had not been included in the Somerset population count.

On the program, Craig Mathies, Kirkland Hall and Deborah Jeon explain the history of race relations and electoral fairness in the county and discuss their campaign for change.

You can listen online or download the audio.

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