Speakers ask for fairness in redistricting as populations change in area counties
HUNTSVILLE – Fairness to counties and racial minorities was a concern for many speakers at hearings last week in north Alabama on redrawing lines for various state and federal offices.
Additionally, data from the 2020 census presented by the state’s reapportionment committee indicated that several legislative districts in Madison and Limestone counties have had significant population changes that will require new boundaries.
Several House districts involving Limestone County gained population. District 4, which includes southern Limestone and north-central Morgan, gained 7,085 people. District 5, the only House district totally in Limestone, gained more than 5,000 people. District 6, which includes eastern Limestone and western Madison County, gained 6,000. Those districts are currently represented by Republicans Parker Moore (4), Danny Crawford (5) and Andy Whitt (6).
Several speakers attending a hearing at Drake State Community College in Huntsville pushed for GOP legislators to pledge not to gerrymander congressional, state Senate and House, and State Board of Education maps.
“I will pledge to draw districts that comply with the United States Constitution and the Voting Rights Act,” said Rep. Chris Pringle, R-Mobile, co-chair of the committee.
Redistricting’s effect on racial minorities also was a concern at the Calhoun hearing.
“Achieving equal representation and being able to cast equal and effective votes depends in part on redistricting maps that are drawn fairly to reflect and respect our communities,” said Diane Steele, a political action representative for the NAACP chapter in Limestone County.
In 2016, after a lawsuit brought by the Legislative Black Caucus, a federal court ruled that 12 of Alabama’s 35 state Senate districts drawn after the 2010 census diluted the voting power of Blacks by packing them into districts. Lawmakers were forced to redraw the maps again in 2017.
The latest census numbers, on which the redistricting will be based, say Alabama is 69% white and 27% Black.
Several speakers during the hearing at Drake State noted that Madison County, which now has the state’s largest city, Huntsville, is represented by six state senators but only two live in the county. Residents said that dilutes their representation in Montgomery.
Committee attorney Dorman Walker said keeping counties whole, or at least not split multiple times, would be a priority. There are 35 Senate districts and an ideal district population would be 143,551, according to reapportionment information.
The census pegged Madison County’s population at 388,153.
Limestone County, which has a population of 103,570, shares four of its five House districts with other counties.
“If the numbers show that we could have another district in terms of a majority of minority people, then I’d be in favor of a new district,” Steele said.
Walker told the audience at Calhoun that one of the rules of reapportionment are that everyone’s vote should have equal weight.
“The purpose of the redrawing is to create equal districts, which is what one person, one vote requires,” he said.
The reapportionment meetings at Calhoun and at Drake State in Huntsville were among the first of about two dozen that continue the next two weeks around the state. Upcoming meetings are listed on the Legislature’s website.
The public meetings are a chance for groups to submit their own proposed maps, which is what the League of Women Voters of Alabama did at the Drake State hearing. It offered congressional districts that would allow for two districts, 6 and 7, that were at least 50% minority.
“It is your sacred duty to ensure that all communities of interest are maintained intact and that all communities regardless of race, background, ZIP code or income are fairly represented,” league president Kathy Jones said.
She said the congressional districts should be based on county lines.
“You cannot continue to racially gerrymander Alabama’s voting districts,” Jones said, speaking specifically of congressional District 7, represented by the state’s lone Democrat in Congress.
Lawmakers for decades have drawn Alabama’s 7th District to maintain its majority-minority status, a legacy from the Voting Rights Act of 1965. According to the latest census data, the district lost more than 13,000 residents since 2010 and will have to be drawn to pick up more than 53,000 residents to keep up with the growth of the other six districts.
Pringle said he’s hopeful a legislative special session on proposed maps can happen in late October or early November.
Candidates and incumbents are already campaigning for state House districts that may change. Walker said the committee would avoid placing two incumbents in the same district.