UPDATE (July 18, 2023, 3:50 p.m.): On Tuesday, a Senate committee in Alabama passed a different congressional map from the one discussed below, but it has the same flaws: Namely, it does not create a second district where Black voters can reliably elect their preferred candidate. The proposed 2nd District in the second map has an even smaller Black population than the proposed 2nd District in the first map. Both maps are likely to run into legal trouble.
Did you think the drama over Alabama’s congressional map ended with last month’s Supreme Court decision? Think again.
As you might recall, the high court ruled in June that Alabama’s current congressional map violates the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits diluting the voting power of racial minorities, because it contains only one predominantly Black district — despite it being possible to draw two. That decision forced the Alabama Legislature back to the drawing board (literally), and on Monday, it advanced a new congressional map out of committee.
Except the proposal isn’t what voting-rights advocates had in mind. In the words of the three-judge panel that initially struck down Alabama’s congressional map in 2022, “any remedial plan will need to include two districts in which Black voters either comprise a voting-age majority or something quite close to it.” But the proposed map contains one Black-majority district and one district with a voting-age population that is 42 percent Black, which could land Alabama Republicans back in hot water with the courts.
|District||2020 Margin||White VAP||Black VAP||2020 Margin||White VAP||Black VAP|
It’s not automatically suspect that the district isn’t majority-Black, because under the Voting Rights Act, a district does not actually have to be majority-minority in order to meet the act’s requirements. The district just has to reliably elect the minority group’s preferred candidate. There’s no numerical standard or threshold for this; for example, a solidly Democratic district that is 48 percent Black could still reliably elect Black voters’ preferred candidate if Black voters make up a majority of the Democratic primary electorate.
But the new 2nd District in this proposed Alabama map likely won’t pass this test. According to Dave’s Redistricting App, the proposed 2nd District is still a Republican-leaning district: It would have voted for former President Donald Trump 51 percent to 47 percent in the 2020 election. In other words, it won’t reliably elect Black voters’ preferred candidate (i.e., a Democrat).
If all the Alabama Legislature cared about was complying with the Voting Rights Act, it could have done things differently. As plaintiffs in the lawsuit demonstrated, it’s possible to draw a congressional map of Alabama with two majority-Black districts, which would easily solve the problem. But such a map would also create two reliably Democratic districts, and Republicans in the Alabama Legislature apparently are holding out hope that they can keep their 6-1 advantage in the state’s congressional delegation.
Alabama lawmakers don’t necessarily have the last word here, though; while Republicans control the Alabama Senate, House and governorship and can pass this plan over Democratic opposition, the map still needs to pass muster with the same three-judge panel that struck down the old map. Given the judges’ previous ruling, it seems very possible that they will reject this map too and appoint a special master to draw a new map — one that would probably give Black voters and Democrats that extra seat that everyone expected after the Supreme Court’s ruling. But Alabama Republicans seem determined not to go down without a fight.
Author: Nathaniel Rakich