Connect with us

News

Black Caucus and Association of Black County Officials suit over reapportionment:

Bill Britt

Published

on

By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter

MONTGOMERY—On a gray Friday morning Senator Bobby Singleton, (D-Greensboro), announced from the Statehouse steps,  “We have come hear today to put the state of Alabama on notice….” The notice that Senator Singleton was referring to was a lawsuit filed on behalf of the legislative black caucus and individual African American commissioners from around the state challenging reapportionment.

The lawsuit alleges that Republican lawmakers packed black voters into 27 House districts and eight Senate districts. The redistricting plans “purposely perpetuate and attempt to restore Alabama’s historical policy of segregating African Americans in party politics,” the lawsuit alleges.

The complaint filed alleges that the reapportionment plans are unconstitutional due to unnecessary violations of the whole county provision in the Alabama Constitution and the blatant racial gerrymandering of districts.

Caucus co-chairman Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, pointed to the plan’s use of a narrow 1 percent population deviation among the number of voters in each district instead of the 5 percent that had been used in past plans by Democrats.

Attorney James Blacksher who represents the plaintiffs says that they are challenging the district lines in part based on Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

The federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 was designed to combat tactics denying minorities the right to an effective vote.

Public Service Announcement

The U.S. Constitution requires that each federal district have about the same population within a state.  Each state district within a state must have about the same number of people, and each local district within its jurisdiction must have about the same number of people.

State and local legislative districts have more flexibility and only have to be “substantially” equal. “Over a series of cases, it has become accepted that a plan will be constitutionally suspect if the largest and smallest districts are more than ten percent apart. This is not a hard line: A state plan may be upheld if there is a compelling reason for a larger disparity, and a state plan may be struck down if a smaller disparity is not justified by a good reason,” according to summaries by the Loyola Law School, Los Angeles, CA.

In the past Alabama has used a 5 percent deviation but when drawing the new districts the Republicans used the more narrow, one percent.

ADVERTISEMENT

“The federal courts have never approved a one percent deviation on drawing district lines in Alabama,” said Singleton.

In comparison, Colorado, for example, allows at most five percent total deviation between the largest and smallest districts; Montana’s commission has set guidelines for itself aiming for no more than six percent total deviation (each district must be at most 3 percent larger or 3 percent smaller than the “ideal”). Iowa not only also limits its total population deviation to five percent, but also sets the average deviation at no more than one percent from the “ideal,” according to the Loyola study.

The courts have relied on three threshold conditions in finding that districts need to be redrawn because Section 2 has been violated. According to the Loyola study, (These are often called Gingles conditions, after the Supreme Court’s Thornburg v. Gingles case.) The first asks whether it is possible to draw a district so that a majority of voters belong to a geographically “compact” racial, ethnic, or language minority community.

The second Gingles condition tests whether the minority population usually votes as a bloc, for the same type of candidate. This is a nuanced test: not whether the community usually votes for Democrats or Republicans (or others), but whether they would, given a fair mix of candidates, vote for the same type of Democrats or Republicans (or others).

The third Gingles condition tests the potential competition: whether the rest of the population in the area usually votes as a bloc for different candidates than those preferred by the minority community. If so, this would mean that the minority’s preferred candidate would almost always lose — if the minority community’s voting power were not specifically protected. Together, the second and third conditions are known generally as “racially polarized” voting.

Blacksher says, “plus or minus one percent makes it easier to pack black districts dilute black influence. If Blacksher accretion was found true by the federal courts then Alabama would be forced to redraw the new maps.

The argument that the GOP legislators had packed districts to dilute African-American drew terse ire from Albert Turner Jr., “When we were brought to this county we were pack in the holds of a ship we are determined that we will not be denied our rights by being packed into districts.”

Turner, is the President of Association of Black County Officials and also a Perry County Commissioner.

His father Albert Turner, Sr., helped lead the voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery, on March 7, 1965 and lead the mule wagon that carried the body of slain civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., at his funeral.

The caucus and Black county officials are also sighting the violation of the Alabama State Constitution as a part of the challenge to reapportionment,

“It is critical that we challenge the constitutionality of the reapportionment plans passed by the Republican supermajority in court,” said Caucus Co-Chairman, Rep. A.J. McCampbell (D-Gallion).  “The Republicans drafted these unjust plans with the goal to minimize black voting strength and isolate legislators chosen by African Americans from influence in the Alabama Legislature.”

The complaint filed alleges that the reapportionment plans are unconstitutional due to unnecessary violations of the whole county provision in the Alabama Constitution and the blatant racial gerrymandering of districts.

Under the Alabama Reapportionment Committee Guidelines for Legislative and Congressional Redistricting states, “Counties should be used as district building blocks where possible, and to the extent consistent with other aspects of these criteria. Where county lines cannot be maintained, district boundaries should follow as closely as practicable the local voting precinct boundary lines in order to minimize voter confusion and cost of election administration.

Blacksher claims the maps were partisan gerrymandering. He said they understand that Republicans, who defeated Democrats in the November 2010 election to claim the majority for the first time in 137 years.

“We hope that the federal court will recognize that the plans which the Republicans passed aimed to pack and stack African-American voters into minority districts while drastically reducing minority influence in other districts,” said Rep. John Knight, D-Montgomery.

Bill Britt is editor-in-chief at the Alabama Political Reporter and host of The Voice of Alabama Politics. You can email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.

Advertisement

Health

COVID-19 hospitalizations, new cases continue to rise

Eddie Burkhalter

Published

on

COVID-19 Corona Influenza Virus Molecules Image Stock Photo

The number of rising hospitalized COVID-19 patients in Alabama is a concerning sign of a possible coming surge of the disease, state health experts said Friday. Alabama hospitals were caring for 888 coronavirus patients Friday, the highest number since Sept 9. 

UAB Hospital was caring for around 80 COVID-19 inpatients Friday afternoon, said Dr. Rachael Lee, an infectious disease specialist at UAB, speaking to reporters Friday. UAB Hospital hasn’t had that many coronavirus inpatients since Aug. 18, when the disease was surging statewide.

“We have been dealing with this since March, and I think it’s easy for us to drop our guard,” Lee said. 

Alabama added 3,852 new coronavirus cases on Friday, but 1,287 of them were older positive antigen tests, conducted in June through October and submitted to ADPH by a facility in Mobile, according to the department. Still, Alabama’s daily case count has been increasing, concerning health officials already worried that as the weather turns colder and the flu season ramps up, Alabama could see a surge like the state had in July.

Alabama’s 14-day average of new daily cases was 1,247 on Friday, the highest it’s been since Sept 4. Over the last 14 days, Alabama has added 17,451 new COVID-19 cases.

Public Service Announcement

Friday’s inclusion of those older positive test results throws off the day’s percent positivity, by Thursday the state’s percent of tests that were positive was nearly 16 percent. Public health officials say it should be at or below five percent or cases are going undetected.

The state added 16 COVID-19 deaths on Friday, bringing to total confirmed deaths statewide to 2,859. Over the last two weeks, 206 deaths were reported in the state. Alabama’s 14-day average of new daily deaths on Friday was 15.

ADVERTISEMENT

Alabama state health officer Dr. Scott Harris told APR by phone Friday called the rising new cases and hospitalizations “worrisome.”

Harris noted the data dump of older confirmed cases in Friday’s data, but said “but nevertheless, I think it’s clear our numbers are going up.”

Harris said it’s not yet clear what’s causing the continued spread, but said it may be due at least in part to larger private gatherings. ADPH staff has mentioned a few outbreaks association with such gatherings, but Harris said it’s hard to know for certain if that’s the major driver in the state’s rising numbers.

“It’s football season and the holidays are coming up and school is back in session,” Harris said. “I think people are just not being as safe as they were.”

Harris noted that on ADPH’s color-coded, risk indicator dashboard, red counties, which denotes counties with rising cases and percent positivity, the 17 red counties on Friday were distributed across the state.

“So there’s not one event, or even a handful of events. It seems like there’s just a lot of things happening in a lot of places,” Harris said.

Alabama’s rising numbers are mirrored in many states. The U.S. reported more than 71,600 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, nearing the country’s record highs, set in July.

Continue Reading

News

Birmingham approves $1.3 million contract for real-time crime center technology

Woodfin repeated that facial recognition capabilities will not be used in accordance with the contract.

John H. Glenn

Published

on

(STOCK PHOTO)

The Birmingham City Council approved a five-year, $1.3 million contract with Motorola this week to provide new technology for the police department’s real-time crime center amid unease and public concern over the potential use of facial recognition software within the new systems.

Mayor Randall Woodfin insisted in his remarks made before the council that the new technology is meant to integrate existing hardware and technology inside the real-time crime center. “You’re not buying any additional new equipment,” he said, “You’re buying something to integrate all those systems.”

The software suite includes Motorola Solutions’s CommandCentral Aware, a system that aggregates video, image and other data information into one interface, and BriefCam, a “video synopsis” system that will further integrate and analyze information from Birmingham’s ShotSpotter systems, public cameras and police body cameras.

Briefcam offers facial recognition capabilities, which was the main concern of community members speaking before the council, and the risk that use of the technology could disproportionately affect Black people. Facial recognition technology has a record of racial bias and misidentifies Black people at rates five to 10 times higher than white people.

“Despite assurances that there will not be facial recognition implemented at this phase that does not prevent it from being implemented in the future,” said Joseph Baker, Founder of I Believe in Birmingham and one of the Birmingham residents voicing concern on the proposal. “I believe that this software, if fully implemented, can easily lead to violations of unreasonable searches.”

Another resident who spoke against the resolution was Byron Lagrone, director of engineering at medical software solutions company Abel Healthcare Enterprises. Lagrone pointed to IBM and Amazon as examples of companies that have halted or abandoned facial recognition and object tracking software altogether over racial bias concerns.

“The prevailing attitude, among technical people is this technology is not effective, and it causes high amounts of harm for next to no gain,” Lagrone said.

Public Service Announcement

Woodfin repeated that facial recognition capabilities will not be used in accordance with the contract.

“It’s explicit in this contract that facial recognition will not be used,” Woodfin said, “[If] facial recognition wants to be used in the future of this city. It would have to be approved by this body. … The mayor’s office or the police department doesn’t have unilateral power to use facial recognition. That is not part of what our contractual relationship is with Motorola.”

Woodfin also clarified that the total $1.3 million price of the contract will not be paid as a lump sum but spread out over the five-year commitment.

ADVERTISEMENT

The city council voted 8 to 1 to approve the contract, with District 8 Councilman Steven Hoyt speaking in favor of the use of facial recognition capabilities.

“You can’t say, ‘I’m going to build a house but I’m not going to use the restroom,’” Hoyt said. “If it’s in the house, you’re going to use the restroom. … If it has the capability of facial recognition, guess what’s going to happen? You’re going to use it. I’m going to vote for it because I know we’ve got to have every tool we can garner to fight crime, because it’s out of hand.”

Hoyt also suggested a review of the information collected by the new system apparatus.

“I do think, for the public’s sake, we need to have some way we review that and see how it’s being used,” Hoyt said. “We need that to go along with this.”

District 3 Councilwoman Valerie A. Abbott — who said she was the victim of a burglary the day before the vote — echoed the mayor’s insistence that the facial recognition capabilities would not be deployed unless authorized by the city council, reading a letter from Motorola stating “in order to enable facial recognition, Motorola will require an addendum or change order to the contract,” which would have to come before a public meeting of the city council.

“I too would not want facial recognition,” Abbot said, “I’m voting in favor of this because the majority of my constituents are telling me they want more and better policing, capture of criminals, prevention of crime.”

District 5 Councilman Darrell O’Quinn was the lone no vote among the near-unanimous city council, stating that he had “some reservations about how we’re doing this and will vote my conscience.” 
Later, O’Quinn was quoted in BirminghamWatch, saying his vote reflected his concerns about “taking on a new debt obligation in the midst of a projected $63 million shortfall in revenue.”

Continue Reading

Elections

Opinion | Doug Jones’s pathway to victory: Substance over lies

Jones said his work in the Senate should prove to the people of the state that party matters less than productivity. 

Josh Moon

Published

on

Alabama Sen. Doug Jones speaks during the Democratic National Convention.

Alabama Sen. Doug Jones believes voters will ultimately see through Tommy Tuberville’s lazy campaign and lies, and that enough of them will be moved by his work over the last two years to send him back to D.C. 

Jones’ comments came during a lengthy interview on the Alabama Politics This Week podcast. He also discussed his plans to address some of Alabama’s most pressing issues and also praised Sen. Richard Shelby, an Alabama Republican.  

But it was Jones’ comments about Alabama voters — and whether too many of them are incapable of moving away from the Republican Party — that were most interesting. Jones still believes there are open-minded voters in the state, and that there isn’t enough attention being paid to polls showing a growing dissatisfaction in Alabama with President Donald Trump. 

“There are a number of things that Donald Trump has done that people (in Alabama) don’t agree with,” Jones said. “There are a number of things that he’s done that’s hurt Alabama and that they’re not OK with. That’s where I come in.”

Jones said his work in the Senate, where he’s sponsored the most bipartisan legislation over the last two years, should prove to the people of the state that party matters less than productivity. 

“I tell everyone, you owe it to yourself to look at every candidate and every issue,” Jones said. “I do that. I’ve been a Democrat all my life but I don’t think that I have ever pulled a straight lever. Because I look at every issue. I will tell you that there have been times that I didn’t vote for people who are Democrats for whatever reason — I just couldn’t do it. I think we owe it to ourselves to do that.”

Jones had the perfect example to drive the point home. 

Public Service Announcement

“Y’all all know our state auditor, Jim Zeigler? Jim wasn’t always a Republican. Jim’s first runs for office were as a Democrat. 

“I rest my case.”

You can listen to the full interview at the Alabama Politics This Week website, or you can subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Continue Reading

Economy

New unemployment claims decreased last week

Fewer people joined the unemployment rolls last week compared to the week before.

Micah Danney

Published

on

(STOCK PHOTO)

There were 7,964 new unemployment claims filed in Alabama last week, down from 8,581 filed the previous week, according to the Alabama Department of Labor. 

Of the claims filed between Oct. 11 and Oct. 17, there were 4,032 related to the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s 51 percent, compared to 36 percent the previous week.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement