The Permanent Legislative Committee on Reapportionment held its second public hearing on possible Congressional district maps Thursday ahead of the July 17 special session to adopt new districts.
During the three-and-a-half-hour meeting, 29 members of the public spoke to the committee regarding four proposed maps. Anyone was able to submit a potential map until July 7, and the committee received around 80. Committee co-chair Rep. Chris Pringle, R-Mobile, emphasized repeatedly the committee staff was working to process submissions as quickly as possible, but committee members expressed frustration over holding a public hearing without the map or maps Republican leadership would push forward.
Sen. Vivian Figures, R-Mobile, will sponsor the VRA Plaintiff Remedial plan on Monday. It was drawn by the plaintiffs of the Allen v. Milligan case that necessitates redistricting. The plan would expand district 2 east-west across the state, from Washington to Russell counties, and bring it further south, partly into Mobile County. The VRA Plaintiff plan would split the Black belt between district 2 and district 7, which retains part of Jefferson County, to create the two requisite majority-minority districts.
Plaintiffs from the Milligan case — Evan Milligan, Khadidah Stone, Letetia Jackson, Shalela Dowdy, Alabama NAACP President Benard Simelton — appeared at the hearing to speak on the merits of the VRA Plaintiff map. According to Deuel Ross, lead attorney for the Milligan plaintiffs, an analysis of elections between 2014-2020 showed the Black and Black-preffered candidates would have won all races if districts were drawn according to the VRA Plaintiff map.
“Representation matters. Having someone who understands your community and can and your community’s issues and concerns in an elective body is important. I decided to join this lawsuit because I hadn’t felt represented on the federal level for a very, very long time. In fact, I never received any correspondence at all from my congressional member until I became a plaintiff in this case. Ha has never to my knowledge been in my community, has never held a town hall meeting or any other meeting in the Black community, and when I received notices of meetings, they are never anywhere near where black voters live and frequent,” Jackson said.
The Campaign Legal Center (CLC) plan would divide districts almost entirely by county lines. Jefferson County would become its own district 6, and district 7 would be expanded to include most of the Black belt. CLC recently sent a letter to the committee clarifying they no longer support the map.
The Singleton plan, primarily advocated by Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, also aims to draw district lines along county lines. It would expand district 7 eastward to Macon and Bullock counties and push district 6 further west while unifying Jefferson County.
The Hatcher Remedial Plan drawn by Joe Reed, vice-chair of Minority Affairs for the Alabama Democratic Party, divides 10 counties and 87 precincts to precisely comply with court requirements. It received the most debate, with Pringle and Figures pushing back. Figures and Reed had the following exchange:
Figures: “ Dr. Reed, with all due respect — and I know you have done so much with with drawing maps over the the years — but with this many split precincts, that’s a big problem for us in other elections, even when it’s just a few split precincts, and you’re talking about 87. You’re talking about chaos at its highest.”
Reed: “Let me say this to you about precincts: You’re going to have to split them anyway. When you do county commission districts, you’ve got to split them. There’s no such thing as drawing a county commission district, city council district — right now in Mobile y’all are redrawing the lines down there for city council — you’re gonna have to spit those districts again. One thing that you will have — if y’all don’t know, then I’ll tell you — anytime you draw city council districts, county commission districts, legislative districts, school board districts, all of those districts impact a precinct. There’s no such thing as a precinct being sacred.”
Figures: “But we definitely need to focus on these districts in the Congressional seats if we are to turn out that vote and get those two seats.”
Reed: “It does not matter, Senator. I can promise you it does not matter. I promise you.”
Since all maps have not been processed, Democratic members of the committee voiced concern that any map considered in a private meeting could receive committee approval without ever going under the public light.
“This is a really tortured process. I heard you speaking about ‘we’re going to, after the public hearing is over, after the open meetings requirements are met, then we’re going to go back in a room by ourselves, draw a map, and then give it to you,’” Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, said to Pringle. “By the time we come into whatever meeting we’re having at 10 o’clock, you’re going to hand us a map and then say vote on it. And unfortunately, by 10 o’clock — I’m just going to speak frankly here — the only map that’s going to be voted on is the only one that wasn’t vetted by the public. So I don’t know how this process is designed to be open and transparent when the map that we’re all going to be voting on wasn’t done transparently in the open.”
Pringle noted staff are trying to process all map suggestions, and the committee members would receive any Republican-endorsed map as soon as possible. He also noted that any member of the legislature may propose a map via bill at the special session starting Monday.