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Despite being directed to redraw Alabama’s Congressional maps, the Alabama Reapportionment Committee continues to operate under a cloud of limited transparency, raising concerns about the fairness and inclusivity of the redistricting process. 

The committee’s persistent lack of openness has ignited criticism, as citizens, minority party lawmakers and advocacy groups argue that a more transparent approach is crucial for ensuring the integrity of electoral representation in the state.

With the state legislature’s special session on redistricting set to start Monday, members of the minority party who are representatives on the Reapportionment Committee questioned when they would receive maps and other pertinent information for the map that the majority party wanted to pass. 

On June 8, the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of Alabamians who sued the state legislature for violating Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act by packing black voters into Congressional District 7 and cracking the remaining black voters across Alabama’s other six congressional districts. 

The Alabama Legislature has until July 21 to submit maps that create two majority-minority districts to the three-judge panel. 

On Thursday, July 13, the committee discussed four maps and heard from Alabama residents from across the state about what they would like to see Dothan kept in the same district as Montgomery, Mobile and Baldwin counties kept together, Lauderdale County and Jefferson County kept whole. 

To kickoff the meeting, Rep. Laura Hall offered an amendment to the redistricting guidelines, where she basically called for the reapportionment committee to comply with Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

Committee Co-Chair Chris Pringle said it was unnecessary for the amendment saying the guidelines already required that the legislature comply with Section 2 of the VRA and the United States Constitution

It is important to note that the guidelines from Pringle are the same guidelines that landed the state in court and yielded the plans that the Federal Court and the Supreme Court struck down. 

The 2021 guidelines passed 13-6. 

How many plans were submitted? Why isn’t more information accessible?

Sen. Vivian Figures asked how many plans had been submitted. 

With just days before the start of the special session, Pringle said they had not yet completed the process of going through all of the plans that had been submitted and that he was doing the best that he could. 

Sens. Bobby Singleton and Rodger Smitherman both said they had sent letters to Pringle, Sen. Steve Livingston and committee attorney Dorman Walker requesting information about maps that were being drawn by the committee but had not received any information. 

“We have functionality reports,” Smitherman said. “On many of these other maps, we have functionality reports. That’s not something that as a member that I should have to wait on. All of us should have access to it. I think it is very important that whatever we have, that all the members get it now. So that we have a chance to review and be able to discuss it.”

Pringle said they processed VRA, Hatcher Remedial, CLC and Singleton. 

“We put y’all’s maps first,” Pringle said. “Right now, we’re trying to consolidate and get plans from Alabama residents to you as fast as possible. To be frank, we’re just overwhelmed.”

“I wasn’t aware that this was a y’all process,” said Rep. Chris England. “ We have a court order that we are all supposed to be working on. This isn’t a y’all situation.” 

England said that not having access to the map and information that the reapportionment committee would recommend puts members of the committee and the public at a disadvantage. 

It’s important to note that lawmakers during the 2021 redistricting cycle members of the reapportionment committee received copies of the proposed map with little time to review the map before being asked to vote on it. 

Public Comment

Mike Schmitz, former mayor of Dothan and businessman, said he would love for Dothan to stay in the same district as Montgomery. Schmitz referenced Southeast Gas, which comprises 15 municipalities including Abbeville, Andalusia, Brundidge, Daleville, Dothan, Elba, Enterprise, Eufaula, Greenville, Headland, Luverne, Opp, Ozark, Pike Road and Troy. Southeast Gas and the collaboration among the 15 municipalities has given the Wiregrass and neighboring communities a solid foundation for economic development. 

Jeff Brannon, CEO of Flowers Hospital, said he’s lived in the Dothan area all of his life. He is concerned about the collaboration and he said he believes that the economy is strong because of those collaborations, communications and collaborations. 

Ronald Jackson of Birmingham and former member of the Alabama Legislature, came to support the Blacksher plan, which is the plan submitted as an amicus brief by Campaign Legal Center, but is being supported by the Singleton plaintiffs. 

Jackson supports the plan because it keeps Jefferson County whole. 

Birmingham resident David Russell came to speak about the fact that the reapportionment committee failed to elect a black co-chair at its June 27 meeting. 

“Until Alabama gets their act together no other state is going to get their act together,” he said. 

Russell said the state needed to act like Nick Saban’s football team by putting players up to win. 

“I hope we can formulate a football team that will win for the state of Alabama,” he said.

Kathy Jones, president of the League of Women Voters of Alabama, said the League joined in filing an amicus brief to support the Milligan plaintiffs and their request to create two black districts. 

Maj. Shalela Dowdy, a plaintiff in the Milligan case, said that the VRA map gives the city of Mobile a real voice in Congress. She said that, currently, the city of Mobile struggles to get its representative to support important issues that would help. 

She said the VRA plaintiffs’ plans have been vetted and accepted by the courts.

Khadidah Stone, a plaintiff from Montgomery, said she could not go another 10 years without fair representation for herself or her community. 

She said that she supports the VRA plan because it gives black voters a chance to elect black candidates or candidates of their choice. 

Letetia Jackson, a plaintiff in the Milligan case, said she had not felt represented at the Federal level for a very long time. She said she had never received any correspondence from her representative until she became a plaintiff in the case. Jackson lives in Dothan and said she agreed with former mayor Schmitz that Dothan should be kept with Montgomery and that the VRA plaintiffs’ map keeps those two cities in the same district. 

Jackson said that it is important that leaders represent community members whether they agree with them or not. 

“Representation matters,” she said.”That’s the key premise of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act for what we base our case.”

Evan Milligan, lead plaintiff and executive director of Alabama Forward, said he is six generations removed from slavery and his son and daughter are the seventh generation. 

“When I look at them, I want to commit to them inheriting an Alabama that allows them an opportunity to lead, dream and to make contributions to the community, the same that you want for your children and grandchildren,” Milligan said. “When you look out in the audience today, you see lots of young people. What I hope is that you see them as your children, as Alabama’s children.”

Milligan said that Alabama needs to build a place that provides a path forward where young people can see themselves in leadership in the future. 

Deuel Ross, lead attorney for the Milligan case, said he was asked by Walker to read from a letter that was sent to him from the Milligan and Caster plaintiffs. 

Ross said that in the VRA plaintiff map, the black preferred and black candidates won all the races that were analyzed between 2014 and 2020. 

Ross said that SCOTUS considered arguments about communities of interest and they found that the Black Belt is a community of interest. 

Sen. Vivian Figures is sponsoring the plaintiffs’ VRA remedial map. 

Davin Rosborough, co-counsel on the Milligan case said communities of interest are important. He said that VRA compliance takes precedence over other redistricting policies. 

The Rev. Rayford Mack of the Montgomery Metro Chapter of the NAACP said if the committee itself working on the plan is not initiating and coming up with the right things, how is it going to do the right thing? 

“We are still fighting for power and privilege,” he said. “We want the privilege to vote which will give us power.”

Mack said that if he had been born white he would not want to give up his privilege, but encouraged legislators to do the right thing. 

“It’s time for a change,” he said. 

Dr. Joe Reed of the Alabama Democratic Party brought the Hatcher Remedial Congressional Plan. 

Reed encouraged the legislators to put Alabama first. 

Pringle said that the Hatcher plan split 10 counties and 87 voting precincts. 

Reed was questioned by Figures and Pringle about the splitting of voting precincts and Pringle asked Reed if he was specifically looking for black Alabamians when he split voting precincts. 

“I keep saying, we’re looking for people,” Reed said. “Anybody tells you you can draw two Black districts and not look for Black, they’re lying to you.”

Another map – Singleton Congressional Map 3 – creates two majority black districts in CD 6 and 7. 

“The Singleton plaintiffs support plans that do not split Jefferson County, specifically Singleton map 3, and the CLC map,” Smitherman said. “They showed that it is not necessary – I’m going to say it again – it is not necessary to draw districts along racial lines to provide two opportunity districts, districts in which Black voters have a realistic opportunity to elect candidates of their choice.”

Another map titled CLC Map 1 creates two majority black districts with Jefferson County being its own district. 

Sen. Sam Jones raised concerns toward the end of the meeting about not receiving information yet on other maps that could be presented. 

He said they discussed four different maps on Thursday and he believes that each map is working toward a remedy of what the courts are looking for. 

“I really appreciate the information that we have gotten today,” he said. “There are some maps that we have nothing on, and we don’t know what is being proposed and we go into session on Monday.”

Jones said that he really hoped legislators would get the data before they get to the floor. 

Pringle said the reapportionment committee will meet on Monday, July 17 at 10 a.m. 

Rep. Hall said that Democrats on the committee want to be a part of the process of coming up with a map from the committee. 

Smitherman agreed he wants to get a clear picture of what the map could look like from the committee. 

Pringle once again complained about the number of maps that had been submitted and the “terrible time crunch” they are in to get the maps to the court by July 21. 

Both Singleton and Smitherman said they could help him.

“This is a really tortured process,” England said.

England wanted to know if Pringle and others planned to go into a room, draw a map and give it to the reapportionment committee and expect them to vote on it with little time to analyze it. He pointed out that the potential map from the reapportionment committee would be the only map that wasn’t vetted by Alabamians. 

England acknowledged there are a lot more Republicans than Democrats in the Alabama Legislature and that ultimately the will of Republicans will be done. 

“I will be obligated to vote against it because I have nothing to show to my constituents,” he said.

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