NASHVILLE, TN – Grassroots groups in Alabama are organizing people to participate in redistricting. The state’s Permanent Committee on Reapportionment—15 Republicans and 6 Democrats— is holding hearings around the state from September 1-16.
“These hearings are held exclusively on weekdays and during working hours. The process is fundamentally inaccessible,“ said Felicia Scalzetti, an organizer and fellow of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice.
Scalzetti said people can submit written testimony and can give public testimony by raising their hands virtually during the hearings when they are broadcast. The hearings can educate Alabamians about the process but only if they participate in it.
“We want the folks that sit on that committee to hear directly from the community members to a degree they haven’t experienced before,“ said Evan Milligan. He is executive director of a network of non-profit organizations working to advance democracy in Alabama.
“Let’s say that the committee already has in mind the map they want to vote in and that it’s a done deal, and whatever they say in those meetings is in one ear and out the other,” he said. Civil rights attorneys can assert legal claims later if it comes down to that.
“It’s really important art to be able to show that there was a period when neighbors were saying ‘here is a concern of ours: here are maps we’ve drawn that can show you how to avoid cutting our community in half or drawing lines in a way that undermines the strength of our vote’. The more we can show that committee members were aware of that, the more you can later say that there was a deliberate decision on not to take that information into account,” Milligan said.
Scalzetti and Alabama Election Protection Network (AEPN) are putting on a series of town hall meetings from 7-8PM on the days when the committee holds its hearings.
“AEPN’s goal in terms of redistricting are to educate, connect, train, and engage as many Alabamians as possible. We want to facilitate local community mapping groups, especially those that represent communities of interest and groups of people who are not represented in the state legislature or on city councils,” Scalzetti said.
She wants to make sure everyone’s voice is heard and to see representation that actually reflects the state as it is.
The reapportionment committee draws the district lines. They decide who votes in what district and, to a large extent, who will represent voters in each district for the next ten years. If Governor Kay Ivey vetoes the proposed maps then the committee would have to redraw them.
Since 2010 maps in North Carolina have been redrawn 11 times because Republicans wouldn’t stop gerrymandering the state; judges kept rejecting the unfairly drawn maps. In a fair process, maps would only be drawn once very ten years after the U.S. Census data comes out.
The 2020 census did not show major changes in Alabama’s demographics. The state is still majority white (69%) and its largest minority is African American (27%). Hispanics are 4.6%, Asians 1.55, and Native Americans .7%. Alabama neither gained nor lost representatives in Congress. Alabama had seven seats and will still have seven for the next ten years.
According to Mark Hedin, a reporter with Ethnic Media Services, the GOP majority has been growing in each election since 2006. The senate flipped from a 23-12 Democratic majority to GOP majorities of 22-12 in 2010, 26-8 in 2014, and 27-8 in 2018. Over that same time period, the state assembly went from being Democrat-led, 62-43 in 2006, to GOP majorities of 66-39 in 2010, 72-33 in 2014 and 77-28 in 2018.
The assembly has 18 women among its 105 members; the senate has five women among its 35 members. According to the Alabama League of Women Voters, 43% of Alabamians voted Democratic in 2018. Fifty-five percent voted Republican. Fairly drawn districts would send 4 Republicans and 3 Democrats to Congress.
Alabama’s 7th Congressional District is the only one in the state represented by a Democrat, Terri Sewell, first elected in 2010. It spans the state’s so-called “black belt” and includes sections of Montgomery, Birmingham, and Tuscaloosa.
The 7th district overwhelmingly votes Democrat – by more than 70% in the past three presidential elections. The district is so “packed” that Sewell won with more than 70% support in 2010. Republicans think that’s a small price to pay for dominating Alabama’s political landscape.
Milligan said that elected officials and the institutions they lead shape the quality of life people in Alabama experience.
“It is easier for us to walk into many of the trade shows and buy and an automatic rifle or an extended clip with armor-piercing ammunition. It’s easier to buy things like that than it is to obtain a COVID 19 test, to find mental health care, to obtain employment that pays a living wage, to find public transportation wherever we live in the state,” Milligan said.
“Weighing in on redistricting is critical for our communities,” he said.