MONTGOMERY — The legislative committee redrawing Alabama’s congressional, state board of education and state legislative district maps approved drafts along party lines on Tuesday, two days before the full Legislature meets to consider them.
The nearly two-hour meeting was a likely preview of the special session on reapportionment that starts Thursday, with the Republican majority largely quiet in the debate while Democrats raised questions about minority representation and the speed at which the COVID-19-altered process is happening.
Committee member Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, said the process was flawed in part because committee members only saw the maps in their entirety for the first time on Monday.
“I think this is doing a disservice to the process and the people we represent,” England said.
Committee co-chair Rep. Chris Pringle, R-Mobile, said he only saw whole maps Monday, too.
“That makes me feel worse,” England replied.
As of Tuesday afternoon, there were still no maps readily available online for the public to view. England shared copies of the maps online that he received as a member of the committee.
Pringle said the committee needed to approve the new districts in order to have bills ready to be considered by the Legislature when it convenes Thursday. Then there will be more time for debate and suggestions, Pringle said.
This once-a-decade process is needed to update the districts based on 2020 census data. The COVID-19 pandemic delayed the census process and release of data to states this year, hindering this map-making process.
The new district maps were advanced along party lines. Each will now become a separate bill introduced in the session. These maps will be used in next year’s elections, for which candidates are already campaigning and raising funds.
England and Sen. Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham, repeatedly questioned why minority areas were split among multiple districts. In the Senate, Jefferson County is divided among seven districts.
“I made that concern known and no effort was made to address that,” Smitherman said after the meeting. He also said he believes the Senate map does not follow constitutional requirements.
Committee co-chair Sen. Jim McClendon, R-Springville, defended the current congressional map, saying he thought the single minority district represents the state’s minority voters.
“It was the committee’s feeling that we’ve historically had a minority congressional district and by drawing it like the committee chose, it really ensures or improves the chances of a minority winning the district,” McClendon said.
For decades, lawmakers have drawn Alabama’s 7th district to be majority-minority, a legacy from the Voting Rights Act of 1965. According to the census, the district lost more than 13,000 residents since 2010 and must pick up more than 53,000 residents to keep up with the growth of the other six districts.
Several Democrats asked for racial polarization studies on several proposed districts. Rep. Laura Hall, D-Huntsville, asked for one done on the single minority congressional district. Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, said he’ll bring a proposed congressional map with two largely minority districts instead of the current one, District 7. U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell now represents that district.
Pringle will sponsor the congressional map, which will start in the House. McClendon will sponsor the state board of education map, starting in the Senate. The two lawmakers will each start the maps for their respective chambers in those bodies.
The special session could last up to 12 legislative days — days when the House and or Senate meet — spread over 30 calendar days.
McClendon said he has scheduled for the entire process to take the standard five days, similar to how long the recent special session on prisons took.
“Now that’s all contingent on staying on track and, you know with 140 folks, you can get off track, sometimes when you least expect it,” McClendon said.
Some of the other changes to maps include:
Senate District 1, currently held by Sen. Time Melson, R-Florence, would no longer stretch into Madison County, but it would contain all of Lauderdale and Limestone counties.
Melson told Alabama Daily News that he was happy with the changes to his district.
“It keeps Lauderdale whole and gives me Limestone, which I love,” Melson said. “Could it be better? I don’t know, but I’ll take it.”
Senate District 6, currently held by Sen. Larry Stutts, R-Tuscumbia, would no longer include a portion of Lauderdale County, but it would contain all of Colbert, Franklin and Lawrence counties.
Senate District 4, currently held by Sen. Garlan Gudger, R-Cullman, would lose a portion of Lawrence County and would include all of Cullman, Winston and Marion counties.
Senate District 22, currently held by Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Range, gains more ground in Baldwin County, but it would lose Clarke County and a portion of Monroe County.
House District 18, currently held by Rep. Jamie Kiel, R-Russellville, would no longer include western Lauderdale County. Instead, it would be made up of all of Franklin County and most of Colbert County.
State Board of Education
Morgan County would no longer be in District 6, now represented by Cynthia McCarty of Anniston. It would join the Shoals and other northwest counties in District 7.