Groups seek 2 districts with large Black voter bases

Groups seek 2 districts with large Black voter bases

By KIM CHANDLER, Associated Press

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama’s seven-member congressional delegation for decades has consisted of a single African-American member, elected from the only district with a majority Black population.

But with Black and mixed-race residents now making up more than 25% of the state’s population, some legal groups, as well as a lawsuit, argue the law requires two districts that, “afford African Americans an opportunity to elect candidates of their choice.”

Alabama lawmakers return to Montgomery this week to draw new legislative, congressional and school board districts, a process undertaken every 10 years after new U.S. Census numbers are released.

Republicans are unlikely to support changes to the congressional map that would reduce GOP dominance in the state. However, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. and the American Civil Liberties Union said lawmakers must consider if the Voting Rights Act requires a map “with two opportunity districts each comprised of a majority of Black voters.”

The groups said that nearly 28% of the state’s population is Black or mixed-race. The current congressional delegation is 14% Black.

“It is critical that the state legislature uses this opportunity to remedy longstanding dilution of Black voting strength in Alabama’s congressional map. Nearly 28% of Alabama residents identify as Black people, yet since Reconstruction, Alabama has never had more than one Black member of Congress in its delegation,” the groups wrote in a letter to members of the Joint Reapportionment Committee.

A separate lawsuit filed by two state senators and four voters argues the current map is racially gerrymandered by forcing most Black voters into District 7 which stretches from Birmingham through the Black Belt to Montgomery, and limits their influence in other districts.

The Reapportionment Committee meets Tuesday and will release and debate proposed maps for the first time, said Sen. Jim McClendon, the co-chairman of the reapportionment committee.

McClendon said the maps approved by the committee will be introduced as legislation ahead of the special session that starts Thursday.

McClendon declined to say much about the push for a second congressional district but said the state must comply with the Voting Rights Act.

This will be the first full redistricting process without a “pre-clearance” requirement for more than a dozen, mostly Southern states to receive federal approval from the Department of Justice before making changes to the voting process. The U.S. Supreme Court in 2013 effectively ended the requirement when it ruled the federal government was using an outdated method to decide which states were subject to it.

McClendon said the state maps will likely get court scrutiny, noting the already pending lawsuit.

“What we do doesn’t automatically go before the DOJ…but we are likely to end up before the courts for review,” he said.

District lines must shift to accommodate large population growth in, and around, areas of Baldwin County, Huntsville, Tuscaloosa and Auburn while other areas of the state saw stagnant or declining population growth.

Alabama showed an increase in racial and ethnic diversity in the new Census numbers. The percentage of people who identify as white dropped while the state saw an increase in the Hispanic population and a doubling of the percentage of people who identify as multiracial.

Whites continue to be the largest racial group in Alabama, but the percentage of people in Alabama who identify as white shrunk from 68.5% in 2010 to 64.1% in 2020.