Gop Advances Legislative Maps; Democrats Say Process Rushed

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Republican lawmakers serving on a redistricting committee swiftly advanced proposed legislative and congressional maps Tuesday — just one day after the maps were completed — over the objections of Democrats, who say the process was rushed and the congressional map fails to reflect the state’s racial diversity.

The Joint Legislative Reapportionment Committee voted 16-6 to approve the map that maintains one congressional district likely to elect a Black representative. Some groups and lawmakers have argued there should be two such districts to reflect the state’s minority population. The vote broke down along party lines, with Republicans voting yes and Democrats voting against it.

The approved map — as well as legislative and state school board districts — will be introduced as legislation for the special session that begins Thursday. Lawmakers are required to draw new districts every 10 years after new census numbers are released.

Democratic Rep. Chris England of Tuscaloosa said Republicans were rushing the process, noting committee members just saw the proposed maps one day ago.

"This is going to be what we operate off for the next 10 years and I think we owe the public a lot more due diligence," England said. “I think we did the state of Alabama a huge disservice today.”

Republican Rep. Chris Pringle and Republican Sen. Jim McClendon, co-chairmen of the committee, noted that the committee was only voting on a recommendation.

McClendon said lawmakers had to rush because the state received census numbers late and lawmakers had to get four maps ready before the special session begins.

“There is plenty of time between now and when the legislators have to actually vote on this for citizens in Alabama to make comments to their legislators,” McClendon said.

Democratic Sen. Bobby Singleton argued that the current congressional delegation and proposed map do not reflect the state’s diversity. The seven-member delegation for decades has consisted of a single African American, elected from the only district with a majority Black population. The district is now represented by Rep. Terri Sewell.

African Americans make up about 26% of the state’s population, and that is reflected in the composition of the Alabama Legislature and the Alabama Board of Education. "The congressional map is the only map we will draw that does not represent the 26%," Singleton said.

Singleton said he will introduce an alternate map during the special session.

McClendon said drawing the committee-approved map increases the chance that a minority will win District 7. He said creating two districts could lower those odds.

Changes to the congressional district included shrinking the physical size of Congressional District 5 in north Alabama to accommodate the heavy population growth in the Huntsville area.

The committee also approved proposed maps for state school board and legislative districts.

This will be the first full redistricting process that doesn't require pre-clearance from the Department of Justice, a condition that was instituted under the Voting Rights Act in 1965 in mostly Southern states with a history of voting rights violations. The U.S. Supreme Court effectively ended the requirement in 2013 when it ruled the federal government was using an outdated method to decide which states were subject to it.

McClendon said even without the requirement, lawmakers were careful to comply with the Voting Rights Act and related court rulings.

The proposed maps could be bound for federal court anyway. There is already a pending lawsuit arguing the current congressional map is racially gerrymandered.

Democratic Sen. Rodger Smitherman of Birmingham said he was disappointed in the rushed process. “It’s kind of saying, ‘I don’t give a heck about what you think or say — so take me to court,'” Smitherman said.