MONTGOMERY, AL – The special session on redistricting convened October 28 and finished November 3. New voting districts for U.S. Congress, state senate, assembly, and the Alabama Board of Education were approved and sent to Governor Kay Ivey for her signature.
A political version of speed dating, the special session was marked by some sharp debate but it didn’t change the outcome any. The Republican majority voted for gerrymandered maps that favor them. The last time maps were drawn after the 2010 Census, Republicans elected six members to Congress while Democrats only elected one.
“During the last redistricting cycle, a federal court found that 12 of Alabama’s legislative districts were racially gerrymandered in violation of the United States Constitution,” said Jack Genberg, a senior staff attorney at the Southern Poverty Law Center. Genberg said Alabama has once again gerrymandered many of its legislative districts.
Four lawsuits have been filed contending the maps are racially gerrymandered and violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act as well as the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
“Alabama’s redistricting maps intentionally pack and crack Black communities in the state denying them the equal protection of the law,” Genberg said.
Where Black voters are packed, voters can elect a candidate of their choice but their candidate wins by a large margin, leaving fewer Black voters in other districts. When a district is cracked, Black voters are dispersed into two or more districts, thus diluting the power of their vote.
Two of the lawsuits specifically ask the court to order a second minority-majority voting district in Alabama. Another lawsuit does not specify a remedy but plainly states the problem with the past and current maps: “packing black voters in a single majority-black Congressional district and minimizing their influence in five majority-white districts.”
“A close examination shows the demographics of representation have not changed. There are no additional minority or minority opportunity districts in the state senate and the state Boaad of Education map,” said Felicia Scalzetti. She is a Southern Coalition for Social Justice CROWD Fellow for the Alabama Election Protection Network.
Scalzetti said only 1 of 7 Congressional districts is majority Black which represents only 14% of the Black voting age population when in reality Alabama has a Black voting age population of 25.9%.
“So we have a disparity in the actual representation,” she said. Republicans have 85% representation; Democrats have 14%.
“What I’m getting at here is that our Democratic districts and our Black majority districts are the same. And this is the case in each of the maps. So we have an issue of gerrymandering here as well.”
Scalzetti said that “communities of interest” are split in every map, including indigenous populations.
“The ratio of number of districts where Black Alabamians are minority majority districts are the same from 2011. They only differ in the house map and it was only an increase of one seat which did not represent equity. Fundamentally, we do not have equity in this map. This map keeps the core of the racist maps of 2012, unfortunately,“ Scalzetti said.
Khadidah Stone is with Alabama Forward, a statewide civic engagement network. She reported that the 2020 Census found that the Black population of Alabama is 25.9%; LatinX population is 5.3%; and two or more races tripled to 5.1%. “So that’s a total of 36% for the BIPOC communities,” she said. BIPOC stands for Black indigenous people of color.
Stone said getting three minority majority districts would be 42% minority representation. During the public hearings, a lot of people expressed dislike for the how the maps were drawn.
“People who spoke out came from all different demographics and all had their own reasons for disliking the maps. A common theme was wanting better representation for their communities. The most common complaint was the split among several districts making it difficult for members of the community to know who represented them,” Stone said.
Contesting gerrymandered maps in court takes time. All over the South, this drama is playing out. But three middle school children found a quicker better solution to gerrymandering and won a $10,000 prize.
Kai Vernooy, James Lian, and Arin Khare picked Alabama as an example of a state with a history of gerrymandering. They created one mathematical algorithm that determined how much gerrymandering was distorting a district and created another algorithm to make precincts adhere to district population characteristics. This resulted in fair and balanced district boundary maps. They submitted their results to Broadcom MASTERS, the nation’s leading middle school STEM competition, and took first place. Needless to say, Alabama Republicans didn’t invite them to Montgomery to demonstrate their method.