Lawmakers will be back in Montgomery starting Oct. 28 to decide new congressional, state Senate and House and state school board district boundaries in a special session.
The proposed maps, still being drafted, aren’t likely to be made public until late next week, raising some concerns about how much community reaction could be heard in a fast-paced special session.
Gov. Kay Ivey on Thursday sent lawmakers a letter telling them she planned to start the special session in two weeks. Her official call outlining the legislation will come later.
In her letter, Ivey thanked lawmakers for their work on the special session last month on prison construction. She said reapportionment is the next order of business.
“Thanks to your efforts, and those of many, many others, our Alabama Counts! census campaign was a resounding success — even in the midst of a global pandemic — allowing Alabama to maintain our strong representation in Congress as well as billions of federal dollars,” Ivey said.
The proposed maps, based on 2020 census data as required every 10 years, will be made public after the Legislature’s reapportionment committee, made up of senators and House members, meets to vote on them. Committee co-Chair Sen. Jim McClendon, R-Springville, said it could be late next week.
“We don’t have anything to post publicly until the committee meets,” McClendon said.
Some states, including neighboring Georgia, have been quicker to release proposed maps.
Meanwhile, any outside groups wanting to propose their own maps for consideration by lawmakers in the special session have a deadline. The Legislature’s Reapportionment Office drafts its maps.
Legislative rules require “drafts of all redistricting plans which are for introduction at any session of the Legislature, and which are not prepared by the Reapportionment Office, shall be presented to the Reapportionment Office for review … at least 10 days prior to introduction.”
That means outside groups have until early next week to submit any proposed maps they’d like considered by lawmakers.
There will be four bills in the special session. One each for congressional, state board of education and Alabama House and Senate districts. Months-long delays in the 2020 gathering of census data has meant lags in getting states their new population numbers, delaying the process.
States in August received preliminary census data. Some states have already circulated proposed maps, a few have already approved them.
Rep. Chris England, R-Tuscaloosa, is on the reapportionment committee and on Wednesday said he hadn’t yet seen whole maps.
“It’s almost like this entire process is going to be done behind closed doors and then we’re going to be told what the maps look like,” said England, chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party.
Candidates for state office have until Jan. 28 to qualify and primaries are May 24. England said people are trying to decide if they will run for office, but they need to know their districts.
“It’s not supposed to be an incumbent protection program, this is supposed to be an open and fair process that tries to draw maps where everybody gets the opportunity to be represented,” England said.
After the 2010 census, Lawmakers were able to redraw the congressional and board of education maps in different regular sessions than the legislative district maps. This time, they have to do all four in one condensed special session. Specials can last 12 legislative days spread over 30 calendar days.
“We’ve got elections coming up right and left,” McClendon said about 2022.
But McClendon said this process hasn’t been much different than previous ones. He was a co-chair of the previous go-around too.
“We’re trying to do everything as wide open and transparent as we can,” McClendon said. The committee last month hosted 28 virtual public hearings across the state.
At several of them, Alabama League of Women Voters officials and members asked lawmakers to improve racial equity, protect communities of interest and prioritize keeping counties whole in the map-making process.
“We shall see if they were listening,” league President Kathy Jones said. “It is troubling that the Alabama Permanent Reapportionment Committee has been working in secret to create the state’s voting district maps.”
The league also presented a proposed congressional map that makes two districts, 6 and 7, at least 50% minority.
Lawmakers for decades have drawn Alabama’s 7th district to maintain its majority-minority status, a legacy from the Voting Rights Act of 1965. According to the latest census data, the district has lost more than 13,000 residents since 2010 and will have to be drawn to pick up more than 53,000 residents to keep up with the growth of the other six districts.
Asked if there was a possibility the GOP-dominated Legislature could move forward a map with two minority congressional districts, McClendon previously said it would be up to the committee.
The 2022 primary is May 24, the general election is Nov. 8. Candidates for state office have until Jan. 28 to qualify.
The preliminary census data in August showed the largest population losses in the Senate and House were in districts that include the Black Belt, 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.