Voting groups concerned about Alabama redistribution card plans

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Hours before the Alabama Legislature met on Thursday on the first day of a special session on redistribution, voting rights groups voiced concerns about the state’s redistribution process and the proposed new maps, which they say diminish the political power of minority voters.

“There is still time for Alabama lawmakers to do the right thing here,” said Jack Genberg, senior attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center, during an online briefing on Alabama redistribution efforts and in Georgia, organized by the SPLC. “Alabama lawmakers should listen to communities of color and draw lines to give communities of color fair representation.”

In a meeting on Wednesday, the joint legislature redistribution committee approved, along party lines, proposed new districts for Congress, both houses of the legislature and the state school board.

Genberg expressed concern over what he described as “so-called public consultation sessions” in Georgia and Alabama, allegedly to solicit input from the community.

“But no data or maps were made available to the public at that time, so there was little opportunity to contribute,” said Genberg. The draft cards were posted Monday by Representative Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, in a series of tweets.

Felicia Scalzetti, a member of the Ordinary People’s Society and the Alabama Election Protection Network’s redistribution, said the time the Alabama public hearings were held was also troubling.

“We had 28 public hearings, and 27 of them were between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.,” Scalzetti said, noting that most people would find it difficult to attend a meeting in the middle of the day.

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As for those map blanks themselves, Scalzetti said she only has two days to study the maps, but what she sees confuses her.

“These new maps have minimal revisions to account for new population growth, but the racist core and intent of these districts remains. The ratios are the same. We still have the same number of predominantly black districts, this skinny Democrat, which, again, fundamentally distorts and fissures our communities, ”Scalzetti said.

Alabama’s draft maps show districts with strong Republican or strong Democratic leanings, Scalzetti said, which essentially makes a primary race the “real election.”

Alabama’s new congressional map project retains the state’s majority minority congressional district, the 7th Congressional District, represented by United States Representative Terri Swell, D-Alabama. Some Alabama Democrats are calling for two Congressional Minority Districts.

State Senator Bobby Singleton at the state’s Joint Redistribution Committee meeting on Tuesday said he planned to present his own map that would create two majority minority districts.

“We are 26% of the black population of voting age. We don’t have 26% representatives, ”Scalzetti said.

The House District map project divides parts of Talladega County, Scalzetti said, against the wishes of residents who spoke to the redistribution committee.

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“Talladega appeared at the public hearings. They did everything they were supposed to do. They followed the rules. They had one of the biggest screenings, ”Scalzetti said. “And they said unequivocally that they wanted Talladega to remain whole in these cards, and that is not what happened.”

Scalzetti and others in the briefing discussed “wrapping” and cracking, ”whereby those drafting new cards can wrap like-minded voters in some districts to limit their political power elsewhere, and break up , or “smash,” other like-minded voters in different districts to prevent them from reaching a majority in one. Such gerrymandering practices are often used to diminish the political power of minorities, which often leads to lengthy court battles.

Genberg discussed such a lawsuit in Alabama in which a federal court in 2017 ruled that 12 of the state’s proposed districts in 2010 were victims of racial gerrymander, in violation of the Constitution and Human Rights Act. 1965 vote, ordering their redistribution.

A 2019 article in The Intercept appears to show Sen. Jim McClendon, co-chair of the reassignment committee who in 2010 was a state representative, worked with late Republican gerrymandering expert Thomas Hofeller during Alabama’s 2010 reassignment cycle.

Hofeller’s files, included in this 2019 article, showed that he was involved in editing a document titled “Directions from the Reallocation Committee for Legislation, State Board of Education, and State of Alabama Congressional Redistricting ”and worked on those issues with McClendon.

Some of Hofeller’s documents indicate he split Alabama ridings based on race in favor of Republicans and diluted minority votes. Asked about this by APR in 2019, McClendon declined to comment.

A federal court ruled that the lines of Congress that Hofeller helped draw in North Carolina in 2016 were unconstitutional racial gerrymandering.

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“Unfortunately, partisan gerrymandering is legal,” Scalzetti said. “You can say I drew this card to deny Democrats their civic rights, and it’s legal. You can’t say I did it to deny black voters the right to vote, but you can hide it.

The redistribution round is Alabama’s first since the 2013 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the Shelby V. Holder case that struck down a critical section of the Voting Rights Act, Section 5, which ruled that nine states, including Alabama, must have the voting rules approved by the federal government to ensure changes don’t have no negative impact on minority voters.

Caren Short, senior supervising attorney at the Southern Poverty Law Center, discussed at Thursday’s briefing two federal laws that she said could strengthen protections during the redistribution.

The Freedom to Vote Act would ban partisan gerrymandering and stronger protections for communities of color, Short explained, and the John Lewis Advancement Act would restore the protections of the Voting Rights Act dismantled in the 2013 Supreme Court decision.

“The Freedom to Vote Act is like the remedy for many partisan and opaque racial discrimination evils with the current constituency draw process occurring in special legislative sessions,” said Short. “The Voting Rights Advancement Act is like the vaccine against future electoral changes made by states like Alabama and Georgia, with a long history of racial discrimination in the vote.”

Genberg said the SPLC is very concerned that the political cards emerging from current processes “are shattering and diluting the voting power of communities of color.”

“We hope lawmakers will do the right thing,” Genberg said. “But if they don’t, they’re going to invite costly, multi-year litigation.”

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