Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey recently announced that she plans to call a special session for the purpose of redistricting, beginning on Thursday, Oct. 28. This session, which is expected to last around two weeks, will be focused on the reapportionment of congressional, state Legislature and state school board districts. This process, which occurs every 10 years following the census, will determine what our state and federal district maps look like for the next decade.
Why should you care about this?
Let’s start with the fact that this is the first year since 1965 that Alabama will create these maps without the oversight of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) and the preclearance requirements that were previously associated with Section 5 of the VRA. After the Shelby v. Holder Supreme Court decision in 2013, certain decisions related to voting and voting rights – including parts of the redistricting process – will no longer require additional permissions and scrutiny from the federal government, known as preclearance.
Section 5 of the VRA had previously provided increased safeguards against reapportionment plans that would leave voters of color in a worse position than the existing plans, but those protections no longer exist. Alabama has a long, clear legacy of creating legislation that negatively impacts voters of color in our state, and there’s no reason to believe that such a pattern won’t continue. It’s essential that voters watch this process closely and work to point out inequities where they occur.
Beyond the potential discriminatory impact of this process, reapportionment in general is incredibly important because it will determine the lines we use to elect our lawmakers for the next 10 years.
It is a central tenet of our democracy that voters should choose their legislators. But with control over the process residing in the Legislature, it is possible that we will end up with politicians choosing their voters instead by selecting lines and maps that are most advantageous to their individual political aspirations. This can lead to gerrymandered lines that serve our elected officials, not our communities. This is done through tactics such as stacking, packing and cracking. These strategies often lead to the dilution of minority voices and the separation of groups of people with similar concerns and experiences, known as communities of interest, a telltale sign of gerrymandering.
So, what can you do to speak up about fair lines? Here are some places to start:
- Where can we, the public, see the maps the legislators propose?
Maps can be found for public inspection on the third floor of the State House in the Reapportionment Office. The State House address is 11 S. Union St., Montgomery, Alabama, 36106. It’s also possible, though not guaranteed, that maps will be posted online at the Reapportionment Office website after the committee meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 26.
- When can we weigh in on the proposed maps?
Public hearings before the relevant legislative committees, though we don’t know exactly when they will be, could happen as soon as Friday, Oct. 29. Notices for public hearings will be posted on the Legislature’s website.
- Whom can we contact to request public hearings or to speak at a public hearing?
When bills are introduced, they are assigned (or “referred”) to a standing committee. Legislative rules require a public hearing to be requested before a bill is scheduled for committee action. The limited days of special sessions make this more difficult than in the regular session, so be sure to monitor Alabama Legislature website for postings. However, requests for public hearings can be made to the clerk of the relevant committee. To speak at a public hearing, one must appear in person and sign up to speak before the hearing begins. The Alabama Legislature does not allow for virtual testimony.
- How can I watch the process if I’m not in Montgomery?
Every floor debate and committee meeting will be livestreamed at links that can be found here.
- Besides testifying at a public hearing, what else can I do to help?
Here are some of the resources you can share with friends and family about why this process is so important: FairVote’s background on gerrymandering, Alabama-specific information from the Alabama Election Protection Network and detailed information on our state presented by Dave’s Redistricting website.
Redistricting is a complicated and sometimes opaque process, but it’s incredibly important to the future of our state and our democracy. By tuning in, contacting your legislator, and adding your voice to the conversation, you can help shape the direction of our state for years to come.
Katie Glenn is a policy associate for the SPLC Action Fund in Alabama.
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