Racial Gerrymandering

Districts Dillute Minority Vote.

Helen Bigge, Staffer

For many people, gerrymandering, or grouping a larger-than necessary amount of one race or community, is the main term synonymous with controlling the outcome of an election. Recently, another form of voter suppression has been increasingly recognized: vote dilution. 

Merrill v. Milligan (2022) is one in a series of cases brought before the Supreme Court regarding voting rights in state districts. After the 2020 census, three separate plaintiffs filed lawsuits against the state of Alabama for its failure to give Black voters a fair chance to elect officials compared to White voters. Such discrimination in voting has been illegal since 1965 under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA). The three plaintiffs eventually consolidated into the one Merrill v Milligan (2022) case in which the three district court judges found a VRA violation and favored the plaintiffs’ plans to create a second majority-minority district – a district that has a majority voting population of racial minorities – that still complied with traditional districting standards (despite two of the three judges being Trump-appointed to their roles). The state appealed, and after being argued in front of the Supreme Court on Oct. 4, 2022, the case now awaits decision from the Supreme Court. 

Most of the contention over whether or not to let Alabama keep their singular majority-Black district — or to make them add a second one once and for all — lies in whether race should be used at all in deciding the district lines. Race is a valid factor to consider when drawing state boundaries if attempting to provide more equal representation, especially when there is a history of unequal representation in regards to race. The Alabama petitioner believes that since race was not used in the calculations of the original redistricting maps and the only way the plaintiffs were able to create the second district was by factoring race into the simulations, it should not have to change its map. The important thing to the plaintiffs is that there is no part of the VRA that says race can not be factored into redistricting boundaries, just that it can not be the “predominant” factor in forming these boundaries. Since the goal of the government’s own proposed redistricting plans is to make everyone’s vote equal, or at least make Black and white voters ballots count more equally in Congressional elections, considering race to determine the congressional map is valid —  especially when taken as one of many factors in the redistricting process.

The state of Alabama aims to keep its originally rendered 2022 district map with one majority-Black district, while the plaintiff hopes to have them draw a second majority-Black district into existence. Despite Black voters comprising 27% of Alabama’s population, according to SCOTUSBlog, the state’s current seven-district system only has one majority-Black district which has a 55% Black voting population. The state has a history of cracking the “Black Belt”– an East-West span of counties in which much of the state’s Black population resides– into four or five separate sections among the other majority-White districts. Breaking the majority up ensures that the people who were a part of that group now reside in different districts, making them the minority. This dilutes the vote and is done to make certain that Black citizens are unable to elect the candidate they desire.

Breaking up this group of communities would not pose such a large problem for other states where voting is much less racially polarized, but this is Alabama. Since 2010, the state’s District 7 (the one majority-Black district) has voted differently than every other district for their House Representative– it has been the only district electing Democratic representatives. According to Ballotpedia, in 2020, over 90% of Black voters in the first three districts cast their ballot for the same House of Representatives candidates (James Averhart, Phyllis Harvey-Hall, and Adia Winfrey) while a mere 12.6% of White voters supported Averhard in District 1, 5.2% for Harvey-Hall in District 2, and 6.6% for Winfrey in District 3. None of the candidates that the Black voters rallied behind won their districts, except in District 7.

There is an increasing discontentment with Alabama’s Congressional representation, and with good reason. If everyone in a community was rallying behind the same person, but year after year an overwhelming majority tipped the balance in favor of their opponent, most wouldn’t feel like their vote mattered at all. The consequence of diluting the Black population’s vote, of lessening the impact that said vote has on the outcome of Congressional elections, is an extreme shortcoming of the state government that draws these maps.