The Department of Justice has reached a tentative agreement with Dorchester County, Md., on a plan to replace at-large elections to the County Commission with district elections in an effort to end alleged discrimination against black voters, officials said.
Frank Wright, a county lawyer, said he expects a settlement "within two to three weeks." Paul Hancock, assistant for litigation in the voting section of the Justice Department, said, "We don't have a final decree signed by both parties, but we're pretty close to an agreement."
"We haven't ratified anything yet," said commission President Leonard W. Dayton, but noted discussions "are moving forward."
Under a plan offered by Maryland Attorney General Stephen Sachs, Cambridge -- the county seat -- would be divided into two districts, one of them including about 90 percent of the county's blacks, a county commissioner said. Three other commissioners would be elected in other districts in the county.
Dorchester County currently has five districts. Each commissioner is required to live in his or her district, but is elected countywide. The federal government charges that the at-large system makes it difficult for blacks to win a seat on the County Commission, to which no black has ever been elected.