Armed with new information about which districts gained and lost residents, the committee redrawing the Alabama House and Senate, Congressional and board of education maps will begin public hearings Wednesday.
The hearings will be held at community colleges and can be attended in person and observed online. A complete schedule and links can be found here.
Months-long delays in the 2020 gathering of census data has meant lags in getting states their new population numbers, delaying the reapportionment process that happens every 10 years.
States just this month received preliminary census data.
Because of that, public hearings won’t include new proposed maps, Rep. Chris Pringle, R-Mobile, said Monday.
“Hopefully we’re gonna be shown the existing districts and which ones are overpopulated, which ones are under populated,” Pringle said.
The data, reviewed by Alabama Daily News, shows the largest population losses in the Senate and House were in districts that include the Black Belt and Jefferson, Montgomery and Mobile counties. Those seats are all currently held by Democrats. Outside the Black Belt, some rural districts held by Republicans also saw population losses.
Baldwin County’s Senate District 32 saw the largest growth, followed by Senate District 27, which includes Auburn, and District 2, which straddles eastern Limestone County and western Madison County in north Alabama.
The state House districts with the largest percentage population gain were seen in southern Baldwin County, Pike Road, Auburn and south Huntsville. All of the areas are represented by Republicans.
There are 35 Senate districts, and an ideal population for each district would be 143,551, according to reapportionment information. In the 105-member House, a district’s ideal population would be 47,850.
The 7th District, which runs from Birmingham through Montgomery to just north of Mobile County, lost 18,209 people from 2010-2020. The 7th is Alabama’s only congressional district that has a majority of African Americans, a legacy from the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Yet, with the district losing population and others gaining, it could create a headache for lawmakers to preserve that majority-minority status.
Pringle said that during the redrawing process, all districts will need to pick up population. The 7th has a lot more ground to make up, as much as 53,000 to be ideal.
“So many of those counties are losing population, so what will probably have to happen is to pick up more of Jefferson County,” Pringle said.
Asked if the 7th District could expand south into Mobile, Pringle said it’s not likely given the makeup of the coastal 1st District.
“Mobile and Baldwin counties are an area of commonality, and one of our charges on the committee is to keep those together as best we can.”
Data earlier this month showed that Huntsville is now the state’s largest city, edging out Birmingham in Jefferson County.
Similarly, the Alabama State Board of Education seat with the most population growth is District 8 in north Alabama. It includes Madison County and Huntsville. District 5 in the Black Belt saw the largest decline.
Pringle said he’s hopeful a special session on proposed maps can happen in late October or early November.
Meanwhile, candidates and incumbents are already campaigning for State House districts that may change. The qualifying deadline for candidates is Jan. 28.
“Because we just got the information we’re under such a terrible time crunch,” Pringle said, noting that public comment is still important.
“People can look at the existing legislative districts and see ones that need to reduce their population where they would like to see that population moved,” Pringle said.
The hearings will also be an opportunity for the public to advocate for communities of interest they want to see in one district, not split between two.
“This is the guidance we want,” Pringle said. “We’d rather hear from the public what they would like to see done and the members what they would like to see done so that we can draw a map, hopefully accommodating the wishes of the people and the government members.”
The following links contain the district population data from the 2020 Census.
Alabama Daily News reporters Caroline Beck and Todd Stacy contributed to this report.