FROM DISAPPOINTMENTS TO LAWSUITS OVER ALABAMA’S NEW REDISTRICTING MAPS
From left to right: Kathryn Sadasivan, Redistricting Counsel, NAACP Legal Defense Fund; Felicia Scalzetti, Southern Coalition for Social Justice CROWD Fellow, Alabama Election Protection Network; Jack Genberg, Senior Staff Attorney, Voting Rights Practice Group, Southern Poverty Law Center; Khadidah Stone, Alabama Forward
By Khalil Abdullah, Ethnic Media Services
On November 3, the Alabama state legislature approved new maps that set boundaries for its congressional and state districts based on 2020 census data. By November 15, two new lawsuits – joining those already filed during the redistricting session – were filed opposing the impending implementation of those maps.
The plaintiffs, among them the Alabama State Conference of the NAACP, contend those maps intentionally dilute the voting power of minority communities, particularly African American ones. Plaintiffs are requesting the federal court to order Alabama to halt the use of the maps. Should the plaintiffs be successful, new maps would have to be drawn, possibly by the courts.
Anneisha Hardy, executive director of Alabama Values, a civic grassroots organization, said the legislature had engaged in methods and behaviors that excluded substantive participation throughout the public hearing process. She summarized the process as one that had a “lack of transparency and accountability and accessibility.”
Hardy’s remarks were made during a forum on redistricting in Alabama co-sponsored by Alabama Values and Ethnic Media Services.
Kathryn Sedasivan, Redistricting Counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, observed that Alabama has a long and well-documented history of voter suppression, particularly of its African American voters. As a consequence, Alabama, like many of its Deep South neighbors, came under coverage of the federal Voting Rights Act, enacted in 1965
Under the VRA, selected states and jurisdictions had to submit changes to their voting procedures to the U.S. Department of Justice or a federal court for approval. That process, known as pre-clearance, was resented by the affected parties, in part because they considered federal oversight an afront to their state’s sovereignty.
In 2013, in a controversial decision decried by voting rights advocates, the Supreme Court stripped the VRA of its oversight provision, but targeting voters by race, color, and even by language is some instances, still remains unconstitutional under Section 2 of the VRA.
“When race is the predominant factor in drawing districts’ lines, and the use of race is not narrowly tailored to comply with the Voting Rights Act or justified by any other compelling governmental interest, the district is an unconstitutional gerrymander,” explained Jack Genberg, Senior Staff Attorney, Voting Rights, Southern Poverty Law Center. The SPLC, along with other entities, is providing legal counsel for the plaintiffs.
“During the last redistricting cycle [after the 2010 census], the federal court found that 12 of Alabama’s state legislative districts were racially gerrymandered in violation of the United States constitution,” Genberg said.
One of the constitutional mandates is that districts must be roughly equal in their population. Gerrymandering typically “packs” as many voters of a targeted community into a single district. While that means they can elect a representative of choice to Congress, it also reduces their capacity to influence the outcomes in other districts where their numbers are small. “Cracking” is the inverse. Smaller blocks of voters are allocated to districts where they will be in the minority and unable to outvote larger voting blocks with a different political agenda or goals.
Felicia Scalzetti, Alabama Election Protection Network, noted that in Alabama, “close examination shows the demographics of representation have not changed.” The proposed map for congressional districts “keeps the core of the racist maps of 2011, unfortunately.”
Even though Alabama has a Black voting age population of 25.9 percent, only one of the seven congressional districts affords African Americans the opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice.
Alabama’s redistricting process “is attacking Black voters and the people that Black voters support,” said NAACP LDF attorney Sevasian, and the resulting maps “have violated the discrimination provisions under Section 2 of the VRA.”
Participants also contended that unfair redistricting practices will affect other minority populations. Scalzetti reported that tribal communities were carved up and allocated to disparate districts under the proposed maps. Latino and Asian American populations have also increased over the last decade but the new maps pay no regard to their constitutional rights as communities of interest to elect candidates of their choice.
Scalzetti also said that while many cities and counties have already completed their maps,the media paid scant attention and most residents residents may be unaware of how their daily lives may be affected.
For Khadidah Stone of Alabama Forward, a nonprofit promoting statewide civic engagement, the heart of redistricting is personal involvement. She encouraged residents to share their concerns about redistricting with their elected representatives across all levels of government, particularly since redistricting largely determines who makes the decisions about how federal and state funds are allocated.
Stone also noted that, “given Alabama’s history, redistricting always ends in litigation.” She was harsh in her assessment that once again Alabama taxpayers will end up paying to defend unfair redistricting and voting practices.