The Democratic National Committee voted Saturday to investigate the Alabama Democratic Party over recent bylaws changes – a response to a complaint filed by ADP vice-chair Tabitha Isner and more than 40 executive committee members to the elimination of several minority caucuses.
Members of the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee, which will handle the investigation, expressed outrage during a meeting on Friday over the allegations stemming from a contentious and chaotic ADP meeting on May 6. At the meeting, the party’s State Democratic Executive Committee voted – allegedly – for a complete overhaul of bylaws adopted in 2019 after an investigation and intervention by the DNC.
The May 6 bylaws eliminated several new caucuses, which were established in 2019, and moved them to committees, lessening their voting power and autonomy. The May 6 bylaws have been widely viewed as an effort to return tremendous power to the Alabama Democratic Conference, the ADP’s minority caucus, and its chairman, Joe Reed.
“I sit here today heartbroken,” said Yvette Lewis, a member of the Rules and Bylaws Committee who led the 2019 investigation for the DNC. “It’s as if all the work we did … it was all for nothing.”
Lewis went through a lengthy recounting of the steps and battles undertaken in 2019 to bring ADP’s bylaws into compliance with the national party’s goals and objectives.
The issue, at its core, is a simple one: The pre-2019 bylaws essentially recognized only Black members of the SDEC as a minority group, providing the ADC with vast voting power that was utilized by Reed to maintain firm control of the party. The 2019 bylaws moved ADP towards more diversity and inclusion, establishing caucuses for Youth, LGBTQ+, Native Americans, Hispanics and Asian that enjoyed equal voting power.
Reed and ADC members claimed that move illegally diluted the power of the Black vote, and cited a federal court consent decree that required a certain percentage of Black voters. However, supporters of the new bylaws – and several courts along the way – have noted that the percentage of Black votes in the SDEC actually increased, since several of the Youth and LGBTQ+ members were Black.
“I was excited to be a part of that process, especially as a Black woman, who grew up hearing about how my people had been left out, and the fact that we were doing it to someone else was more than I could tolerate,” Lewis said. “I wanted to be sure that we were not accused of doing that which was done to us.”
That is exactly what has been alleged about the May 6 bylaws changes adopted by ADP. But those are not the only allegations that the DNC committee plans to investigate.
“We’re equally alarmed by the bylaws and the operational allegations which seem to prevent the full participation of members, if true,” said Minyon Moore, co-chair of the Rules and Bylaws Committee.
The operational allegations include that the party leadership imposed a previously-unannounced $50 fee on some members, refused to let members pay the fee at the meeting, and that a quorum was never established prior to the vote. Isner’s complaint seeks to have the entire meeting declared null and void.
In previous interviews, ADP chairman Randy Kelley said that the May 6 bylaws changes would “encourage” additional participation in several of the caucuses that had been reduced to committees. He also has leveled allegations of racism over the 2019 changes – a charge that seems dubious since Lewis and DNC chairman Jaime Harrison are both Black, as is Rep. Chris England who was elected chair of ADP following the adoption of the 2019 bylaws.
Harrison promised a fair investigation that would work with ADP leaders, but like Lewis, he also expressed a distaste for the idea that Democrats would exclude any minority groups. There was no timeline set for the investigation.