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Alabama Special Session: Redistricting

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Julie Bennett/jbennett@al.com
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The Alabama legislature is meeting for another special session. This time lawmakers will be looking at redrawing voting maps for upcoming elections. Critics of the plan are preparing for a court battle even before the GOP majority puts pen to paper.  

Lawmakers draw new district lines every 10 years after census numbers are released. Senator Jim McClendon is part of that process. He said legislators are working on maps that will be voted on during the special session.  
“We will propose to the legislature, four different maps. One of them is the congressional districts, another one is the state board of education districts, also the Alabama Senate districts and the Alabama House of Representatives districts,” he said. 

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He said they are trying to accommodate both population changes and requests from legislators. McClendon is the chair of the senate redistricting committee. He says the population changes tend to follow a common pattern. 

“Generally, that trend is from rural areas to urban areas. So, what happens in a rural area, when the population drops, we have to redraw that district to recapture the necessary number of voters in that district to bring it more in compliance to that one person, one vote ideal,” he said. 

Not everyone sees the issue in that favorable a light. 

Bobby Singleton is the senate minority leader and one of the senators filing the suit against Alabama. He said they filed early because they believe they know what is coming. 

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“Just trying to make sure that the standard things doesn’t happen that seems to be happening around the nation, gerrymandering, stacking and packing, all of those things that happen in the process of reapportionment. We know the Republican party is not going to draw up a map that is going to be the same as ours. We already know that, they have already basically said that was not going to happen," Singleton said. "They’re already in opposition, we’ve talked to them about it and they’re totally in opposition to it. We know it’s going to come. So, when you know something is not going to happen, we’re just getting ahead of the curve.” 

McClendon knows what Singleton is talking about.  

 “A governor of a northern state, drew a district that looked like a salamander, his name was Gerry and they labeled that term 'Gerrymandering' and that term has taken hold,” he said. 

McClendon said it is a term that is used by those not happy with how voting districts are drawn out. 

“Gerrymandering is like beauty. It’s in the eye of the beholder. If someone has a really good district, that they like, that isn’t gerrymandering. If somebody looks at it and is unsatisfied with the district, then its gerrymandering,” he said. 

There are some who are already accusing the state of trying to isolate and limit the influence of Black voters in Alabama. McClendon said this is nothing new. 

“Its kind of interesting, we haven’t even produced a map yet and they’ve already produced a lawsuit. Nothing new there, 10 years ago I was chairman of the House redistricting and we got sued then. A lawsuit is pretty common following this redistricting process,” he said. 

Chris England is another Democratic Alabama House member who’s keeping an eye on how the GOP majority redraws the voting maps. He’s not part of Bobby Singleton’s lawsuit over Gerrymandering—But, he wants the maps to be drawn fairly and accurately. 

“We want to make sure the maps drawn take into account populations and demographics in the state that, just based on numbers alone, should afford an increase in minority representation,” he said.

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England is not optimistic about the outcome of the special session. He said Alabama’s gotten into some hot water over how the districts were drawn. 

“Just as recently as a few years ago, Alabama was ordered by the court to redraw maps because of the emphasis placed on race in the process, the improper emphasis on race in the process,” he said. 

He said the state’s track record doesn’t help. 

“Take into account Alabama’s history you’re always concerned those always play a role in how maps are drawn, which ultimately impacts an individual’s ability to elect someone they feel represents their best interests,” Englad said. 

England said lawmakers must keep the Voting Rights Act in mind while redrawing the districts. 

“We also want to make sure the maps comply with the voting rights act, section 2 of the voting rights act. Where we don’t unfairly or unnecessarily pack black voters into small districts to make sure their influence in state politics is minimized,” he said. 

McClendon thinks the session will go smoothly and quickly. 

“Ten years ago, we did it in five days. That’s the minimum number of days it takes to pass a bill," he said. "That is my plan, try to stick to that five-day schedule and hopefully Wednesday, I think is November third, we should have something to give to the governor.” 

England could not disagree more. 

“Oh, this is going to take a while. This will not be like the session we went through with prisons," he said. "This process is complicated, there are so many different things you have to comply with and also so many interests you have to take into account. So many different stakeholders. I would anticipate this session taking as long as the law allows a special session to take.” 

And with Republicans in firm control of the government in Alabama, England thinks the state will have a tough road to hoe after the session. 

“I think Alabama will probably face several lawsuits to try and drill this process down a little bit," he said. "To draw maps that fairly and accurately represent the population, the shift in demographics, to draw maps that incorporate more opportunity for people to elect more representatives that are like them.” 

Lawmakers meet tomorrow to begin the session.

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