Redistricting and Gerrymandering

 

This series is a joint effort of the blog editor, Catherine Davies, and

other members of the Advocacy Team, and Board of the

League of Women Voters of Alabama.

Please click on the blue links in each blog entry for more detailed information.

1 of 10: Why redistricting matters in AL and why you should care

By Catherine Davies July 30, 2021

     Why you should care a lot about this (apparently obscure) governmental process: Do you care about fairness in the way democracy works? Do you care about whether your voice as a citizen in our democracy is heard or ignored? The way that districts are drawn can give an elected representative (and here we’re talking about Congress, but this applies to ANY level: Congress, state legislature, city council, school board, etc.) a motivation either to care about the views of all of their voters and try to take them into account, including voters of the other party, or to feel free to ignore them. 

     If you identify politically with a party that has an overwhelming majority in your district, then that might be just fine with you. Maybe you even think that winning is all that matters, so you feel justified in manipulating the current system to your advantage. If the system allows itself to be “gamed,” then you may think that if you don’t do it your opponent will. This is what’s happening with corruption of the redistricting process through “gerrymandering.” It’s important to remember that this has been done by BOTH parties over the years as they have tried to gain an unfair advantage. It is important to remember that gerrymandering corrupts BOTH parties, in that it guarantees all incumbents their current seats. Gerrymandering is explained in detail in part five of this series

     But consider how a person would feel who is in the minority party in your district: as if their voice is never heard or taken into account. And consider that it could be YOU in that position one day as political winds change (and we know that they always do). For example, Alabama’s 4th Congressional district, currently held by a Republican, was held by a Democrat from 1967 to 1997. 

     Let’s look at a situation in which a district is evenly divided, with 50% of the voters choosing each party. The elected representative (assuming that constituents aren’t voting a party line no matter what) would have to consider the views of constituents of both parties in voting and in crafting legislation, etc. But suppose that in such a situation (50/50), the district lines were redrawn to move some people out into neighboring districts and to draw others in from neighboring districts, such that the district was now 70/30, with the majority voting for the party of the representative. Compared to the 50/50 situation, would the representative now feel much of a need to listen to the 30%? This is an example of “gerrymandering” (which essentially turns the process backwards and allows elected representatives to select their voters). 

     Our focus right now is Congressional districts, that is to say, elected representatives for the US House of Representatives. Redistricting also happens at the state level, for the representatives elected to our House and Senate. It happens at every level of government where people are elected to serve. This process affects our lives in many ways, from federal legislation (such as the Voting Rights Act) to state legislation (such as ways to make government more transparent), all the way down to city council decisions on how funds will be allocated (such as adequately funding the local Registrar so that enough people are available to process absentee ballots).

     How this series of posts will work: Because this topic is complex, we will break it down into bite-size pieces that are designed to build on each other. They will be written so that you can read them sequentially, but we will also try to make clear connections to previous material for people who jump in somewhere other than at the beginning. 

2 of 10: It all starts with the Census

     The basis for all redistricting is the data from the U.S. Census. The first nation in the world to take a regular population census, the United States has been counting its population every 10 years since 1790—as required by the U.S. Constitution (Article I, Section 2). For the count, the Constitution specifies “free persons,” not citizens. (For more information on the evolution of the Census, see this article from PRB.) In the early days the only way to accomplish this was for somebody to go door-to-door. Technology has of course changed the way that the Census is conducted, from exclusively door-to-door, writing information down on the form, to online data collection. The verb that is used in the Constitution to mean “count” is “enumerate,” and to this day the people who are hired by the Census to follow up on the online-census by going door-to-door are called “enumerators.” The questions that are asked have also changed over time, and the terminology (for example, in the 1880 census the enumerator asked whether any person being counted in the household was “idiotic,” which was apparently different from “insane”). It’s quite interesting to look at earlier census data for one’s own ancestors on a genealogy website.

     The complete census data is not made public until 72 years have elapsed, to protect privacy. Until that time requirement is reached, the census data released to accomplish the required redistricting does not include anything that would clearly identify individuals (obviously, for example, names and addresses). Certain demographic information, however, is important for redistricting (such as race and ethnicity). In order to protect anonymity in an age of increasing technological sophistication, the Census Bureau has been working on ways to protect privacy. The current “differential privacy” approach is controversial, but apparently relevant not for congressional-level districts, but rather at the state level. NPR has a discussion of the issue here, “For the U.S. Census, Keeping Your Data Anonymous and Useful is a Tricky Balance.” This article also includes a link to a lawsuit filed in March challenging the differential privacy approach, with U. S. Representative Aderholt of Alabama’s 4th District as the main plaintiff. 

     The Census Bureau reports its data to Congress, by state. If a state’s population has increased, it is possible that the state could have more representation in the House of Representatives in the form of an additional Congressional district. If a state’s population has decreased, it is possible that it could lose a seat (as people were worrying about recently for Alabama). If a state’s population has increased, it could still lose a seat because other states may have had larger increases. How the number of seats is calculated and allocated to the states is discussed in the next post (#3)

     Remember that the U.S. Senate is not affected by the census data because the Constitution allocated two senators to each state no matter what the population. (Read more about the rationale for this decision on the US Senate website.)

     Once the Census data has been received by Congress, the process of determining any changes in the number of Congressional districts is called “reapportionment.” This will be discussed in the next post. Remember also that the Census data may have implications for state-level districts, because population may move around within an individual state and require redrawing of state legislative districts and other district lines as well. See post #10 for further discussion.

     Here is a very helpful video from the Census Bureau that explains how the data will be presented in two formats with the intention that not only elected officials and data nerds be able to use it, but also regular citizens. 

3 of 10: Was AL losing a federal Congressional district because of the 2020 Census?

     In a representative democracy, we citizens elect people to represent us in various governmental bodies. But consider the difference between electing somebody to represent 10 people, versus 10,000 people. In the case of the U.S. Senate, it’s already set: The entire population of a given state elects two senators. For Alabama, that means that each of us is one of about 3.5 million registered voters eligible to cast a vote for each senator (out of a state population of 5 million). The House of Representatives, in contrast, has had to deal with the steady increase in the population of the United States since the founding. Keeping the population size of the federal Congressional districts small would eventually result in an unmanageable number of representatives, or at least that was the rationale in 1929, when legislation capped the number of representatives at 435 with the “Permanent Reapportionment Act.” That, of course, means that the average number of people for each representative has steadily increased. Currently it is about 711,000 people per federal Congressional district for the House of Representatives. 

     There was concern that changes in Alabama’s population between 2010 and 2020 might result in our losing a federal Congressional district, going from 7 to 6, but that is not the case. When the detailed official Census data for 2020 is released on August 16th of 2021, it will be the role of a committee of the Alabama legislature, the “Permanent Committee on Reapportionment,” to adjust the Congressional districts within the state to be approximately equal in population. 

     The 2016 Code of Alabama, Title 29 – LEGISLATURE, Chapter 2 – PERMANENT LEGISLATIVE COMMITTEES, Article 4 – Committee on Reapportionment states that the purpose of the committee is “to prepare for and develop a reapportionment plan for the state.” In terms of membership in the years when the census data is released, “the committee shall be composed of 22 members as follows: One member of the House of Representatives from each Congressional district, four members of the House of Representatives at-large to be appointed by the Speaker of the House and one member of the Senate from each Congressional district, four members of the Senate at-large, to be appointed by the Lieutenant Governor.” The statute also indicates that the committee will have access to various resources, and that the committee “may” hold public hearings. The current membership of the committee is 6 Democrats and 15 Republicans. 

     If you would like to read about the history of redistricting in Alabama (and incidentally learn that the legislature failed to comply with Alabama Constitution of 1901 in terms of state legislative districts from 1901 to 1972) and the creation of the Permanent Legislative Committee on Reapportionment, check out their history page

     Note the confusion in terminology (also noted on the history page): “reapportionment” is what Congress does in taking the census data and dividing by 435 to determine how many federal Congressional districts there will be in each state. “Redistricting” is what the state does in drawing the map of the allocated federal Congressional districts to achieve as close to an equal number of people as possible in each district. The term “redistricting” also applies to all state-level districts for the Alabama legislature, county commissions, city councils, etc. 

4 of 10: AL’s unfair redistricting process and

what we recommend

 

     If you have been reading these posts in order (and have just read in part 3 about how Alabama has a permanent committee of the legislature to deal with this), you may be thinking that we’re all set. Here’s the problem that you may not be aware of: in 2018, 43% (about 3 in 7) of Alabamians voted to have a Democratic representative in Congress. A little less than 4 in 7 (55%) voted for a Republican Congressperson. From this perspective, Alabama doesn’t seem as partisan (or dominated by one party) as we are often led to believe. If we just think about the numbers in terms of statewide voter preferences, if we have 7 Congressional districts, then 3 of them should have sent a Democrat to Congress, and 4 of them should have sent a Republican. But what do we actually have? Only 1 in 7 (14%) was won by a Democrat. Does this seem fair to you in terms of actual representation of citizens by elected officials? 

     So now you may be thinking: How in the world can this happen? The answer is the infamous “gerrymandering,” a political manipulation by which district boundaries are drawn to create the kind of unfair effect that we see in Alabama. We’ll go into the “art” of gerrymandering in the next post. Here we will look at what the League of Women Voters recommends, and then examine an alternative in another state. 

     The U. S. Constitution says that the Congressional districts shall be determined by elected branches of government, and this means the legislatures in each state. Alabama has the Permanent Committee on Reapportionment, discussed in the previous post (#3), that currently is composed of 6 Democrats and 15 Republicans. 

     The position of the League of Women Voters on redistricting is that “The League of Women Voters believes responsibility for redistricting preferably should be vested in an independent special commission, with membership that reflects the diversity of the unit of government, including citizens at large, representatives of public interest groups, and members of minority groups.” This would, in principle, eliminate the possibility that the new redistricting maps would be drawn to create partisan advantage. 

     The current League standards on which a redistricting plan is based, and on which any plan should be judged, must:

  1. Be enforceable in court;

  2.  Require:

    1.  Substantially equal population,

    2.  Geographic contiguity, and

    3.  Effective representation of racial and linguistic minorities.

  3. Provide for (to the extent possible):

    1.  Promotion of partisan fairness,

    2.  Preservation and protection of “communities of interest,” and

    3.  Respect for boundaries of municipalities and counties.

  4. Compactness and competitiveness may also be considered as criteria so long as they do not conflict with the above criteria

  5. Explicitly reject:

    1.  Protection of incumbents, through such devices as considering an incumbent’s

    2.  address; and

    3.  Preferential treatment for a political party, through such devices as considering party affiliation, voting history and candidate residence.

     An interesting contrast with Alabama is California, which established the California Citizens Redistricting Commission by the citizen initiative process (which is not available under the Alabama Constitution). It draws both federal Congressional districts and state legislative districts. It has the following partisan breakdown: five members registered with the largest political party in California based on registration (in 2011, Democrats); five members registered with the second-largest political party in California based on registration (in 2011, Republicans); four members who are not registered with either of the two largest political parties in California based on registration. A supermajority vote is required for the commission to approve district maps, with at least three affirmative votes from each group of political party affiliates—Democrats, Republicans and those unaffiliated with either party. It uses the following criteria in drawing the districts: compactness, contiguity, preservation of political subdivisions, communities of interest, prohibition on favoring or disfavoring an incumbent or candidate, prohibition on using partisan data. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, “in the 2010 cycle, the commission’s districts withstood all legal challenges.” This report from the Public Policy Institute of California assesses the effects of the commission on partisan fairness and competitiveness.

     Read more about redistricting systems in all 50 states on the National Conference of State Legislatures website. 

5 of 10: Everything you never knew about

gerrymandering’s origins

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Image drawn by Elkanah Tisdale. Originally published in the Boston Centinel, 1812.

 

     Let’s move back in time to 1812 (incidentally, the last time that we had a war with Britain), to Massachusetts, and to a local newspaper making fun of a politician. The politician was Elbridge Gerry (with the G pronounced like the g in “get”), who as governor signed a bill that created safe districts for his party. The newspaper drew a cartoon that showed that one absurd district looked like a salamander, and dubbed it “the Gerry-mander.”

     Over time, we have decided to pronounce the word as if it were spelled “jerrymander,” but the manipulative political process has unfortunately endured. In the absence of clear and enforceable rules to guarantee fairness to voters, apparently the lust for power is too strong. Our Founders, of course, were aware of human frailty and designed our governmental framework with their best ideas in terms of “checks and balances” to help human beings maintain their moral compass, and to enforce the framework if there were violations. The redistricting process is, unfortunately, an area where we still lack clear and enforceable rules to guarantee fairness to voters. 

     Remember that gerrymandering is a way that governing parties try to cement themselves in power by tilting the political map steeply in their favor. Also remember that this has been done by both parties. The goal is to draw boundaries of legislative districts so that as many seats as possible are likely to be won by the party’s candidates. Drafters accomplish it mainly through two practices commonly called “packing” and “cracking.” A packed district is drawn to include as many of the opposing party’s voters as possible. That helps the governing party win surrounding districts where the opposition’s strength has been diluted to create the packed district. Cracking does the opposite: it splits up clusters of opposition voters among several districts, so that they will be outnumbered in each district. An efficiently gerrymandered map has a maximum number of districts that each contain just enough governing-party supporters to let the party’s candidates win and hold the seat safely, even during “wave” elections when the opposition does especially well. And it packs the opposition’s supporters into a minimum number of districts that the opposition will win overwhelmingly. The concept is nicely illustrated in a diagram from the Encyclopedia Britannica that illustrates how to draw a map both fairly (in two ways) and unfairly via two gerrymandering approaches.

 

     

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The division of districts to produce either fair or gerrymandered results.

Image credit: Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc./Kenny Chmielewski

     

We began this post with the “salamander” example. Here is a more recent notorious Congressional district gerrymander, Maryland’s Third.

 

Maryland’s 3rd Congressional District. Image credit: GIS shapefile data was created by the United States Department of the Interior. Data was rendered using ArcGIS® software by Esri, File developed by 7partparadigm.

 

     A solution? The current For the People Act (SB 1) is a way to create a federal framework to protect voters’ interests during redistricting. It requires Congressional redistricting be conducted through independent state commissions, with diverse membership and public notice and input. You can read the “redistricting reform” here (Title II Election Integrity, Subtitle E, Redistricting Reform). And here is a discussion of this section by the Brennan Center for Justice. 

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6 of 10: What about the role of the Supreme Court in protecting us from gerrymandering?

 

   The good news here, and it involves a case

from Alabama, is that RACIAL gerrymandering

is not allowed. The case was 

Gomillion v. Lightfoot in 1960. In US Attorney

General Garland’s recent memorable

characterization in his address on voting rights

on June 11, 2021, “the Supreme Court

invalidated the infamous gerrymander of the

city of Tuskegee, Alabama, which had

redefined the city’s boundaries to exclude

99% of the city’s black population without

removing a single white voter.”  

     The Supreme Court threw out an Alabama state law that redrew the boundaries of the city of Tuskegee from the square of the map below, to the lighter-colored 28-sided figure which excluded all but 4 or 5 Blacks, while retaining all White residents.

     Alabama was the site of Bloody Sunday in 1965, which galvanized Congress to enact the Voting Rights Act.  Originally signed by President Johnson, the act was reauthorized and signed by President Nixon in 1970, by President Ford in 1975, by President Reagan in 1982, and by President Bush in 2006.  Just as the Civil Rights Act of 1957 had reaffirmed judicial oversight of the political process by the Supreme Court, the 1965 act had a “preclearance requirement.” This meant that any changes to state-level voting processes,  in places with a history of discriminatory practices, had to be reviewed and cleared (approved) by the DOJ before they could be put in place (that is, “preclearance”). 

     And that brings us to bad news from Alabama, in particular from Shelby County, Alabama, in a 2013 Supreme Court decision, Shelby County v. Holder (Eric Holder, the US Attorney General at the time).  Apparently deciding that racism was no longer an issue in the United States, the Supreme Court decision “effectively eliminated the preclearance protections of the Voting Rights Act, which had been the department’s most effective tool to protect voting rights over the past half century.” This was a 5/4 decision, with Ginsburg writing the dissent. As League members, we are acutely aware of what has followed that decision in terms of state-level legislation promoted in the name of “election integrity” but clearly designed to restrict voting rights. 

     OK, you say, but what about the PARTISAN gerrymandering that we’ve been talking about? There’s more good Alabama news here: Another case from Alabama, Reynolds v. Sims in 1964, established the “one person one vote” principle. The Supreme Court held that the 14th Amendment “protects the right of each citizen to have an equally effective voice in the political process.”

     But now for the bad news: In Rucho v. Common Cause in 2019, we get this decision from SCOTUS: “We conclude that partisan gerrymandering claims present political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts.” This was again a 5/4 decision, with Kagan writing the dissent. In other words, the Supreme Court will not involve itself in any cases involving partisan gerrymandering. 

     So it appears that we can count on the courts to protect us from attempts at racial gerrymandering, but not partisan gerrymandering. We do have a set of guidelines as of May 2021 for the Permanent Committee on Reapportionment. Given the fraught history of redistricting in Alabama, it’s up to us as citizens to be vigilant, helped by organizations dedicated to voting rights like the League of Women Voters. 

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7 of 10: The League’s People Powered Fair Maps Initiative

The League of Women Voters of the U. S. launched the People Powered Fair Maps Initiative in 2019. 

There are five elements of the PPFM initiative:

  1. Ballot Initiatives or Referendums 

  2. State Constitutional Options  

  3. State Legislative Fixes 

  4. Federal Legislative Fixes 

  5. Civic Engagement & Education

     In assessing the opportunities in each state in relation to these five elements, the national League has made recommendations to the state Leagues.

LWVUS believes  our best strategy in Alabama to protect voting rights is at the federal level, through legislation (e.g., the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act). The federal focus is due to several factors, including that Alabama does not allow ballot initiatives or referendums (unlike California), so citizens could not get the issue on the ballot in that way. In relation to the state constitutional option, Alabama (unlike Pennsylvania) does not have a provision in our state constitution that guarantees voting rights. When one party has a dominating hold on the state (the Republicans currently in Alabama), it is unlikely that they would pass legislation that would give away some of their power by, for example, creating what the League recommends: “an independent special commission, with membership that reflects the diversity of the unit of government.” This would accomplish redistricting in a way that creates the fairest maps to give every vote appropriate weight.

      To give you an idea of the range of opportunities across states, look at the map below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

LWV focus areas by state. Image credit: The League of Women Voters

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8 of 10: Mapping software!

     As discussed in part seven, even though the judgment of LWVUS is that our option in Alabama is federal, aren’t there other things we can do? We know that the Permanent Legislative Committee on Reapportionment is tasked with drawing the new maps on the basis of the Census data. Its guidelines below indicate that any individual citizen or organization may submit redistricting plans to the committee which become part of the public record. Such maps can provide comparisons with those that the committee produces. This is uncharted territory with access of regular citizens to such technology, so we can’t predict how such things will play out.

     Some Alabama League members are being trained in one mapping software, Maptitude, for which LWVUS has purchased a license.

     Dave’s Redistricting App is a free and user-friendly software mapping tool for personal use that can be used by individuals to draw their own maps. 

DistrictR is another.

     The current League standards on which a redistricting plan is based, and on which any plan should be judged, must:

  1. Be enforceable in court;

  2.  Require:

    1.  Substantially equal population,

    2.  Geographic contiguity, and

    3.  Effective representation of racial and linguistic minorities.

  3. Provide for (to the extent possible):

    1.  Promotion of partisan fairness,

    2.  Preservation and protection of “communities of interest,” and

    3.  Respect for boundaries of municipalities and counties.

  4. Compactness and competitiveness may also be considered as criteria so long as they do not conflict with the above criteria

  5. Explicitly reject:

    1.  Protection of incumbents, through such devices as considering an incumbent’s

    2.  address; and

    3.  Preferential treatment for a political party, through such devices as considering party affiliation, voting history and candidate residence.

     According to the Alabama Reapportionment Committee Redistricting Guidelines, as of May 5, 2021, the first two paragraphs under “public access” are:

  1. The Reapportionment Committee seeks active and informed public participation in all activities of the Committee and the widest range of public information and citizen input into its deliberations. Public access to the Reapportionment Office computer system is available every Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Please contact the Reapportionment Office to schedule an appointment. (see link below to AL Legislature website for committee)

  2. A redistricting plan may be presented to the Reapportionment Committee by any individual citizen or organization by written presentation at a public meeting or by submission in writing to the Committee. All plans submitted to the Reapportionment Committee will be made part of the public record and made available in the same manner as other public records of the Committee.

Read the entire set of Redistricting Guidelines here. It will be important for us to scrutinize these guidelines and track their application, to determine the extent to which they allow gerrymandering or deter it. 

     You can go directly to the Committee webpage on the Alabama Legislature website.

There are useful links to membership (although it seems that members are not identified by political party on the list), to a history of the process in Alabama in the 20th and 21st centuries, to documents related to the history, to redistricting maps, and under “Meetings and Announcements” you can find the guidelines for redistricting, mentioned above. The schedule has not yet been set, but according to an al.com article from July 15, the committee expects to hold about 28 public hearings around the state. You can view the schedule on the Committee website under “Meetings and Notices.” 

The best course of action for private citizens and representatives of community groups is to attend a public hearing and present testimony on how district lines would affect them and their community. See part 10 for discussion of state-level redistricting, in contrast with Congressional-level redistricting. 

     We will have links to helpful guides to preparing written testimony for submission to a committee, and to speaking from that testimony before a committee. 

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 9 of 10:  Our current Alabama 

   Congressional districts 

Now we’re going to examine the state of Alabama

and how things stand with our current Congressional

districts. Further along in the post we’ll zoom in and

examine the situation in Tuscaloosa County that has

been divided between two different Congressional

districts as you can see on the map                             

(the 4th and the 7th).

 

                                                                                                                                              

                                                                                                                                                 Image credit: National Atlas of the United States

     In the previous blog post (# 8), “geographic contiguity” was listed among the League standards. Our League member Robin Buckelew has done extensive analysis of some local situations that we will draw on here in examining the Congressional districts on the map above. The practical effect of the contiguity constraint in Alabama is that in areas of highly concentrated Democratic voters, like the Black Belt, there are districts packed with Democrats. It is not possible to crack up these areas and assign them to safe Republican districts (it would also violate the prohibition against racial gerrymandering, as these areas have a large African-American population). In urban areas, such as western Madison and eastern Limestone counties, it is easier to crack an area demographically Democratic and assign pieces of it to surrounding Republican areas so that most districts end up reliably Republican. 

     Alabama chooses to use a very tight equal population constraint (± 1%) in order to justify non-compactness and breaking up geographical and political communities of interest. On the map above, note the 2nd, 6th, and 7th districts, and especially how the 7th snakes through Birmingham. The 7th district is the only one in Alabama represented by a Democrat (Terri Sewell), and she was unopposed in the last election. Looking at the vote tallies for US President in the last three elections (70%-72% Democrat), the district is packed overwhelmingly with Democrats. It is surrounded by safely Republican districts.

     League members and other interested citizens, with access to the various software packages (see part eight for explanation), should be able to create alternative maps with the new Census data coming out on August 16th and in September (see this video for more details), maps that come closer to providing fair representation. . We discussed the fairness issue in part four: “In 2018, 43% (about 3 in 7) of Alabamians voted to have a Democratic representative in Congress. A little less than 4 in 7 (55%) voted for a Republican Congressperson. From this perspective, Alabama doesn’t seem as partisan (or dominated by one party) as we are often led to believe. If we just think about the numbers in terms of voter preferences, if we have 7 Congressional districts, then 3 of them should have sent a Democrat to Congress, and 4 of them should have sent a Republican. But what do we actually have? Only 1 in 7 (14%) was won by a Democrat.”

Considering now the 4th and 7th Congressional districts that each include part of Tuscaloosa County, the 7th is overwhelmingly Democratic, and no Republican has run for that seat in the last three elections. Tuscaloosa County as a whole has a Republican voting majority, although not an overwhelming one. In fact, in the 2018 midterm election, Walt Maddox (a Democrat serving as mayor of Tuscaloosa) actually won the county over Kay Ivey (a Republican serving as governor) by only one vote. Maddox received 34,336 votes, and Ivey received 34,335. The vote tally for Lieutenant Governor was Ainsworth (R) 37,639 versus 30,507 for Boyd (D). These numbers suggest that not only does Tuscaloosa have a large contingent of Democratic voters, but that it also has a large number of Republicans who are willing to vote for the person rather than the party.

The Congressional Districts that include part of Tuscaloosa County:

     

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the map above, the 4th Congressional district is to the north, and a yellowish color; the 7th district is to the south, and a grayish color. If you look at the district line on the map as it cuts through Tuscaloosa, you can see that it is very irregular. From following the Black Warrior River, it suddenly breaks north and covers some odd-shaped plots in Northport, and the Tuscaloosa airport, before coming back down to the river. In the next map we get an idea why this happens.

     

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Certain Voting Precincts in Tuscaloosa County

   

     Now we are going to take a closer look at the area on the first map above as a case study in how the lines can be manipulated to pack Democrats into a single district and minimize the number of Democrats voting in other Congressional races. We realize that this is getting complicated, but please try to bear with us because what you’re seeing is how gerrymandering is accomplished at a granular level. 

     If you look at the image above showing part of a map of Tuscaloosa, you can see a line that traces the very irregular district boundary between District 4 (the yellowish area to the north) and District 7 (the grayish area mostly to the south of the river). Stickers on the map denote the polling locations for precincts. The data used were the voting totals for the Lieutenant Governor’s race to label a precinct Republican or Democratic. The precincts included on the map are those that are relatively close to the district line and thus relevant for gerrymandering manipulation. 

     The green stickers represent split precincts, in which some of the voters vote in Congressional District 7 (currently held by our only Democrat in the U.S. House), and some in District 4 (currently held by a Republican in the U.S. House). The orange stickers represent precincts wholly contained in District 7. The pink stickers represent precincts only voting in District 4. The precinct party majorities are noted on the stickers. The larger the number (if greater than one) by the party affiliation, the larger the Democratic majority. A number less than one indicates a Republican leaning precinct.

     Tuscaloosa County had 54 voting precincts during the 2018 election. Of those, 16 voted majority Democratic. Fifteen of those 16 were included entirely within the 7th district, and one was split. Notice how carefully the line threads between Democratic majority precincts and others. This effectively removed a huge chunk of Democratic voters from District 4. The bottom line is that Terri Sewell received 27,540 Tuscaloosa County votes in the 2018 election, out of the 185,010 votes she received overall. Tuscaloosa County gave 4th District candidates Auman (D) and Aderholt (R) 5,456 and 17,539 respectively. The 27,540 Sewell votes were part of a strategy to minimize Democratic votes in districts outside of District 7, and prevent a Democratic candidate from winning in District 4 (or any other district in Alabama). What you see here is part of a masterful job of “packing” as many Democratic votes as possible into one Congressional district.”

     We hope that you now have a better idea of how the unfair practice of partisan gerrymandering in the redistricting process can work, and why the League is highly engaged on this issue. If you’re computationally-minded and feeling inspired to learn more, again we refer you back to post eight on mapping software packages. 

Alabama_Congressional_Districts_113th_Congress.jpg

10 of 10: What about all our state-level districts being redrawn?

     If you’ve read through the entire sequential set of posts, we hope that you’re now feeling relieved that you understand what’s going on and that the League is ON THE CASE as far as federal Congressional districts go. But then, immediately, you’re thinking: but what about all of the state-level districts?? If the Permanent Committee on Reapportionment of our legislature is also responsible for redrawing all of those districts, how can we keep track of their efforts to make sure that the new maps are fair? We noted above that it will be important for us to scrutinize the committee’s redistricting guidelines and follow their application to assess their ability to stop gerrymandering. 

     We are working with partners to monitor and track these state-level redistricting processes and to propose our own maps. We will refer to these as “community redistricting” and we will emphasize that what we do will affect our lives directly, in relation to allocation of funds for essential services. 

     A key concept here, listed among the League standards for redistricting in part eight of this series, is “communities of interest.” It is important to note that whereas a community of interest can be defined in many ways, race and ethnicity can play a role in defining a COI but cannot be used as the sole definition. Residents may have a shared ancestry, history, or language. A community of interest is a neighborhood, community, or group of people who have common policy concerns and would benefit from being maintained in a single district. 

     Another way of understanding a community of interest is that it is simply a way for a community to tell its own story about what neighbors share in common, and what makes it unique when compared to surrounding communities. Communities of Interest are defined by the local community members. Examples of communities of interest might be: residents working together to advocate for a local health clinic; community members advocating to get assistance to repair their neighborhood after a natural disaster; a neighborhood organizing to have a high school built closer to their area; a community celebrating cultural holidays, like Lunar New Year or Dia de los Muertos; neighbors who are advocating for the closure of a nearby coal plant. 

     Keeping communities of interest together is an important principle in redistricting. It can be especially helpful to communities that have been traditionally left out of the political process. Community members can define their communities by telling their own stories and describe their concerns to policy makers. Without this, those who may not have their best interest in mind will define the communities for them. 

     Representable is a free mapping tool specifically designed to assist in identifying and mapping communities of interest. There are also free guides and videos on the internet on how to use Representable to create COIs and shape your or your community group’s public testimony. 

A smaller sample of the census data, the “American Community Survey,” may be useful for state-level redistricting processes, as discussed in this report from the Brennan Center: 

     As noted above, the best course of action for private citizens and representatives of community groups is to attend a public hearing and present testimony on how district lines would affect them and their community. View the schedule of hearings around the state on the Committee’s website under meetings and notices. 

     We will provide more information as it becomes available, including training materials on how to prepare both written testimony and an oral version of that testimony for a committee hearing. 

     We close this series with several important ideas that we hope you will carry with you:

  • Voter registration efforts are of course essential, but if partisans are drawing the lines to affect an election result, it dilutes those noble efforts. 

  • The bottom line is fairness, because elected leaders are inevitably less responsive to the full range of their constituents if their district is reliably “safe” in partisan terms. 

  • A final important idea, related to the health of democracy as a whole, is that gerrymandering is a corrupting influence on both parties, and that both parties actually benefit from a competitive system instead of one that is rigged to promote ideological extremism and guarantee incumbency.