For nearly thirty years Alabama has had just one congressional district where a majority of residents of voting age are Black voters, making it more likely those voters can put into office candidates of their choosing.
If the draft of a new congressional map released Monday survives this week’s special session unchanged, the state will remain with one majority-minority congressional district, District 7, represented by U.S. Rep. Terri Swell, D-Alabama.
“Members of our coalition presented a range of maps that actually demonstrated that it was possible to create two opportunity districts for non- white voters, and black voters in the state to elect the candidate of their choice,” Evan Milligan, executive director of Alabama forward, said during an online press conference Tuesday.
Alabama Forward is a statewide coalition of nonprofits that advocates for progressive policy changes.
Milligan explained that not only does the proposed congressional district map, drafted by the Joint Committee on Redistricting, maintain just one of the state’s seven districts as a majority-minority district, but the map also reduces the Black voting-age population in the district.
“Which is a significant step in the wrong direction,” Milligan said.
State Senate Minority Leader Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, and Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, filed a lawsuit in September that seeks to end the practice of splitting counties into more than one district, thereby opening up the possibility for more than one majority-minority district.
“Alabama’s current Congressional redistricting plan, enacted in 2011 is malapportioned and racially gerrymandered, packing black voters in a single majority-black Congressional district,” the lawsuit reads, according to the Associated Press.
“We believe it would be much better and I think most Black citizens believe it would be much better if we had two districts that give Blacks the opportunity to elect a member of Congress, even if that means relying more on white crossover voting,” James Blacksher, an attorney representing plaintiffs in the lawsuit told AL.com.
Sewell, who’s held her seat since 2011, told The Atlantic in September that she supports broadening representation of Black voters “across Alabama, instead of concentrating it in my district.”
“If we’re a quarter of the population, we should be a quarter of the seats,” Sewell said.
Those seeking change in how the state draws district lines, which happens every 10 years after the Census count, say they’re up against a new obstacle this time.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling in the Shelby V. Holder case invalidated a critical section of the Voting Rights Act, Section 5, which held that nine states including Alabama, had to get voting rules approved by the federal government to ensure the changes didn’t negatively impact minority voters. The ruling is seen by many as having opened the possibility of voter suppression by removing that oversight.
“That leaves us in a more vulnerable position than we’ve been in previously,” Milligan said Tuesday.
State Sen. Bobby Singleton during the state’s Joint Reapportionment Committee meeting Tuesday said he plans to introduce his own map that would create two majority-minority districts.
Alabama lawmakers are to begin debating the draft Congressional district map, state school board map, Alabama Senate and House district maps on Thursday. Those maps were published in a series of tweets Monday by Alabama Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa.