HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) — A court-appointed Special Master submitted three proposed maps Monday to address Voting Rights Act problems with Alabama’s congressional map that were identified by a federal court in response to a series of lawsuits.
Special Master Richard Allen said the court directed he and his “team to file, by September 25, 2023, three proposed remedial maps to remedy the likely Section Two violation identified by the Court.”
In response to earlier court orders, the Alabama Legislature in July held a special session and produced a new congressional map, but the three-judge panel that heard the initial lawsuits and found Voting Rights Act problems rejected that map.
That set the stage for Monday’s report.
The State of Alabama has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene and stay the map-making process. The three-judge panel has found that Alabama’s Black voting-age population is large enough and geographically compact enough to justify a second majority or near-majority Black population congressional district.
The State of Alabama has argued that constitutes racial “gerrymandering.”
The report says, “The Special Master and cartographer emphasize that they did not use any measure of Black population or voting age population as a proxy for performance. Districts were not drawn to attain any particular threshold of Black population, such as 50%. Rather, after they were drawn, districts were tested to determine how often the Black-preferred candidate would win elections within those districts.
“In fact, some of the performing opportunity districts do not have a majority Black voting age population (“BVAP”) as shown in Table 5 immediately below.”
Here is the table directly from the report:
BVAP of Remedial Plan Opportunity Districts
Remedial Plan 1 Remedial Plan 2 Remedial Plan 3
District 2 50.1% 48.5% 48.7%
District 7 52.8% 52.8% 51.9%
The report said the Special Master “analyzed the overlap of proposed plan districts with the districts in the Legislature’s 2023 Plan to verify that any changes were necessary to comply with the Court’s order to provide a complete remedy. The Special Master also considered other traditional redistricting criteria—in particular compactness, contiguity, respect for political subdivisions, and maintenance of communities of interest.”
The special master said that neither he nor the cartographer looked at racial data or targeted any particular percentage.
“As an initial matter, the Special Master emphasizes that neither he nor his cartographer, Mr. Ely, used racial population data when drawing district boundaries, nor did he “target” any particular Black population percentage in any district,” The report said. “Instead, where Mr. Ely needed to deviate from the 2023 Plan boundaries, he prioritized following county, voting district (precinct), and municipal boundaries. He also sought to keep the 18 core Black Belt counties intact and within two districts (Districts 2 and 7)”
The report also says, “In preparing Remedial Plan 1, the Special Master sought to minimize changes to the 2023 Plan, rather than the 2021 plan. See Section III(A)(1) below. Indeed, compared to the 2023 Plan, Remedial Plan 1 makes no changes to Districts 3, 4, and 5 and makes only minimal changes to Districts 6 and 7. The configuration of Districts 1 and 2 aligns with the approach taken in the VRA Plaintiffs Plan.”
The Special Master’s reports describe the three alternate maps:
Map 1 –
The report noted several changes to District 6 on plan one it describes those changes were necessary for two reasons:
“First, the shift resulted from changes to District 7. Under the 2023 Plan, District 7 extended south and east to include Conecuh County, leaving only Escambia County with which to reconfigure Districts 1 and 2, which are at the heart of this case. Without adding population in the northern portion of District 7 (i.e., in Jefferson County), the Special Master would have needed to split one county—and likely several counties—along Alabama’s southern border, contrary to the Legislature’s goal of minimizing county splits and avoiding less compact, more contorted districts. The Special Master determined it was more in line with the Legislature’s guidelines and the Court’s instructions to shift the population of District 7 modestly northward within Jefferson County, thereby minimizing county splits and providing more compact districts to the south.
Second, to minimize county splits, the Special Master proposes placing Elmore County, which the 2023 Plan split between Districts 2 and 6, entirely in District 6. The Special Master recognizes that the Grofman Plan, devised to minimize changes to the 2023 Plan, would similarly restore Elmore County to District 6.”The Special Masters Report
The report dais the changes to result in some shifts in district population.
“These decisions resulted in a shift of 5.9% of the district population from District 2 to District 6
(within Elmore County) and the same shift from District 6 to District 7 (within Jefferson County,
the only other county split between District 6 and another district),” The report said.
Map 2 —
Meanwhile, the report says that Remedial Plan 2 is a specific modification to Plan 1 mainly looking at Houston County.
“Remedial Plan 2 offers a specific modification of Remedial Plan 1. Remedial Plan 1 splits seven counties. Dr. Duchin explained in her report in support of the VRA Plaintiffs Plan that the plan was designed to ensure that the individual Milligan and Caster plaintiffs, who she understood to reside in Dothan, Montgomery, and Mobile, would reside in Districts 2 and 7.
“Dothan is a city in Houston County, so the Special Master infers that Dr. Duchin split Houston County for that purpose. While the Special Master appreciates the reasoning behind that outcome, the law does not require that result, and pursuing that result should not undermine traditional redistricting principles.The Special Masters Report
This change is also meant to address the specific concerns about splitting counties from the Alabama Legislature.
“Cognizant of the Legislature’s desire that ‘[t]he congressional districting plan shall contain no more than six splits of county lines,’ proposed Remedial Plan 2 reduces the number of county splits from seven to six by keeping Houston County, part of the Wiregrass region, entirely in District 1, which would then include all but one of the Wiregrass counties that are not part of the Black Belt,” the report said.
The plan said this would also rebalance the population in the vicinity of Mobile.
“This modification also would rebalance population in the vicinity of the city of Mobile,” the plan said. “This results in a slight increase in the portion of the Mobile population included in a single district: Remedial Plan 1 would include 70.8% of that population in District 2, while Remedial Plan 2 would include 71.9% of that population in District 2. Remedial Plan 2 is otherwise geographically the same as Remedial Plan 1. It is also very similar to the Grofman 2023 Plan.”
Map 3 –
The report said the cartographer developed Remedial Plan 3 without referencing other plans and instead focusing on a few steps.
“Mr. Ely prepared Remedial Plan 3 without reference to any other illustrative or suggested party or non-party remedial plan,” the report said. “Rather, he proceeded first by holding Districts 3, 4, and 5 unchanged from the 2023 Plan and then seeking to minimize changes to Districts 6 and 7. He next preserved the Black Belt within Districts 2 and 7, without splitting any of those counties. Like Remedial Plan 2, Remedial Plan 3 splits only six counties. While Remedial Plans 1 and 2 place Henry County, considered to be part of the Wiregrass, in District 2 with the Black Belt, Remedial Plan 3 would place Henry County with the majority of Wiregrass counties in District 1.”
According to the report Plan 3 also reflects an attempt by the cartographer to better preserve Birmingham and Mobile within single districts.
“Mr. Ely also sought to better preserve the cities of Mobile and Birmingham within single districts and to follow municipal boundaries where possible,” the report said. “He also sought to minimize splitting voting districts (precincts) except where needed to equalize population; doing so resulted in jagged borders in certain places because precincts are not square.”
The report said that when compared to the other remedial plans, Plan 3 keeps a greater portion of Birmingham and Mobile’s populations in a single district. Some changes had to be made to achieve that, however.
“To keep more of the city of Mobile in District 2 in Remedial Plan 3, an equivalent portion of Mobile County needed to shift to District 1, which Plan 3 achieves to the north of the city of Mobile, along the border with Baldwin County in the nearest vicinity to District 1,” the report said.
In Plan 3, the report said Ely also looked at relevant economic data when considering how to split Mobile County.
“Mr. Ely accessed median income data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, which is relevant to the social and economic factors identified in the Legislature’s guidelines and findings, to confirm an appropriate bifurcation of Mobile County outside the city of Mobile,” The report said. “The area southeast of Interstate 10 was kept in District 1 for better congruity with Baldwin County.”
The report also says, “The Special Master’s three proposed remedial plans are ‘roughly as compact’ as the 2021 and 2023 Plans adopted by the Legislature, even if slightly less so, and have none of the ‘tentacles, appendages, bizarre shapes, or any other obvious irregularities that would make it difficult to find them reasonably compact.’”
You can read the entire report including maps and tables here.