A federal court will soon impose a new congressional map for the state of Alabama after finding that Republican mapmakers likely violated the Voting Rights Act by illegally diminishing the power of Black voters. And that new map, it turns out, could draw inspiration from ideas submitted by ordinary citizens.
That's because the expert the court appointed to assist it with developing a new map, attorney Richard Allen, invited the public to submit their own ideas for his consideration. Daily Kos Elections has for many years advocated for fairer redistricting, so we jumped at the chance to offer our input and filed a brief proposing two different maps that are shown at the top of this story (click here for a larger version, and see here for the data files for both maps).
As the court instructed, both of our maps would double the number of districts where Black voters could elect their preferred candidates, each of whom would very likely be Black Democrats in a state where voting patterns are sharply polarized along racial lines. Below, we'll explain how we arrived at these two maps and why the federal court’s intervention was necessary to protect Black voters' rights in a state with a long history of discrimination.
Alabama is in this situation because, after the 2020 census, Republican officials enacted a congressional map that illegally packed Black voters into one heavily Democratic district while dispersing them elsewhere to ensure that the other six districts would remain heavily white and safely Republican. Plaintiffs representing Black voters consequently sued, alleging that this approach violated the Voting Rights Act, and a lower court ruled in their favor. The Supreme Court upheld that ruling in a landmark decision in June, preserving a key protection of the VRA.
The Alabama court gave the Republican-controlled legislature a second chance to draw a compliant map, instructing them to draw two districts that were either majority-Black or "something quite close to it." But in July, Republicans brazenly defied the courts, enacting a new map with just one majority-Black district and another that was only 39.9% Black—well short of a majority and therefore safely Republican.
This defiance prompted the lower court to reject that new map earlier this month and take over the mapmaking process itself. Although Republicans are once again appealing to the Supreme Court, their odds of success are low given that the court ruled against them just three months ago.
The lower court directed Allen, its outside expert, to prepare three proposals that the judges will then consider. In response to Allen's solicitation, we partnered with Zac McCrary, a veteran pollster with Impact Strategies and a longtime Alabama resident with a deep familiarity with the state's politics, to come up with our own recommendations. We drew the two maps above using Dave's Redistricting App, a free online tool that enables anyone to draw and analyze their own maps for every state.
The main goal of each map was to create two districts that include three of Alabama's largest cities—Birmingham, Mobile, and Montgomery—and the Black Belt. This rural region, named for its dark, fertile soil, runs west to east across the southern half of the state, encompassing Montgomery and 17 other counties. Due to the legacy of plantation slavery and Jim Crow, the Black Belt has a large Black population today, as do the three cities mentioned above.
The map that Alabama Republicans adopted in 2021 connected parts of Birmingham and Montgomery, linking them through a swath of the Black Belt to create the majority-Black 7th District. The rest of the Black Belt, meanwhile, was split among multiple majority-white districts. The GOP's 2023 map removed Montgomery from the 7th and drew it into the 2nd District, but their revamped 2nd still contains heavily white rural areas north of the Black Belt and further south in the Wiregrass region along the Florida border. As a result, even though this iteration of the 2nd District contained 74% of the Black Belt's residents, it retained a white majority and remains safely Republican.
By contrast, both of our proposals redesigned the 2nd to include most of Mobile in the Gulf Coast region. Republicans bitterly resisted the idea of linking Montgomery and Mobile, but the court previously recognized that Black voters in both regions share significant commonalities. Republicans themselves had even connected these areas in a similar district on the state Board of Education map they enacted in 2021.
In cases like these where a court must impose its own map, courts are limited to making only the changes necessary to bring an illegal map into compliance. Because of this, we strove to leave the remainder of our maps as close to the GOP's 2023 plan as possible.
Consequently, the 2nd District on both of our maps would become majority-Black, but our two proposals differ in how we approached the Birmingham area with the 7th District. In our "Plan A" (see here for an interactive version), we connected most of Birmingham with the Tuscaloosa area and several Black Belt counties, which resulted in that district remaining majority-Black. This plan therefore places 91% of the Black Belt's population in the two majority-Black districts, the 2nd and 7th.
Our "Plan B" (click here for an interactive version) took a different approach to the 7th, giving its Black Belt counties to the 2nd and shifting its focus more toward the Birmingham area, enabling us to put nearly the entirety of the city and much of its suburbs in the 7th. While this version was 45% Black and 47% white, a meaningful minority of white voters here consistently vote in general elections for the same Democratic candidates that Black voters support. A subsequent analysis of election results for this proposed district confirms that Black voters can indeed elect their preferred candidates.
By limiting the 7th to just the neighboring Birmingham and Tuscaloosa areas, the district would become more geographically compact. The 2nd, by unifying the entirety of Montgomery, would also be more compact. This configuration resulted in 29% of the Black Belt's population being placed in the majority-white 3rd District, a larger proportion than in Plan A. However, Plan B ensures that Black voters in the Birmingham area could have a larger influence on the 7th District, while Black voters in the Black Belt region would wield more clout in the 2nd.
The court's expert has until Sept. 25 to prepare three maps to submit to the judges for their consideration, so we will soon find out whether the public's maps have had an impact on his decisions. But whatever happens, the opportunity for ordinary Americans to make their voices heard in a case like this is a welcome one, and in the end, the court will choose a new map that protects the voting power of Black voters in a state that has long failed to do so.