GUEST COLUMN: Tuscaloosa Needs a Fair and Legal Redistricting Map
Editor's note: this is a guest column written by Mike Altman and Emily Altman, who are residents of West Tuscaloosa, members of Tuscaloosa Action, and local activists. The Tuscaloosa City Council is poised to vote on a new municipal district map Tuesday night, which Tuscaloosa Action and other activists allege will not reflect demographic shifts in the city.
We love Tuscaloosa. We moved here in 2013 and we fell in love with this city because of the people here. We love our neighbors in the West End and our friends all over town. So, when we saw the 2020 census numbers and learned that our city had grown in the last 10 years and was now over 99,000 people strong, we were proud. That same census and that same growth also meant that it was time to draw new district lines for the seven City Council districts in the city. All that growth means that new people have arrived to the city and others have moved from one side of town to another. To make sure that we have “one person, one vote” the City Council has to redraw these district lines so that every district has about the same number of people. But that’s not all, they also have to make sure that the demographic makeup of the districts reflects the larger demographics of the population. They have to make sure the new district map is fair.
According to that same 2020 census data, Tuscaloosa’s population is now 52% non-white. We are a non-white, or “minority,” majority city. On the other hand, this means 48% of the city is white. But when you look at the city council districts, four of them are white-majority districts. This means 48% of the population controls 57% of the City Council’s power. Part of this problem is that District 7 is racially gerrymandered, meaning it’s drawn to pack Black voters into the district (they make up about 75% of the district) and keep them out of District 6 next door (about 41% Black). If you move that border between District 6 and District 7 just a little bit you can unpack those voters in District 7 and they become part of District 6. This creates a District 6 that is about 51% Black voters and a District 7 that is about 55% Black voters. This solves the racial gerrymandering problem, creates a fourth Black majority district, and accurately represents the growth and diversity of this city we all love.
Also, fixing this racial gerrymandering is also required by law. The Voting Rights Act requires governments to make a new minority-majority district if it is possible. A group of us from across the city have drawn a redistricting map that fixes the racial gerrymandering in District 7 and fulfills the requirements of the Voting Rights Act. Our Fair Map is fair, legal, and has four majority Black voting districts. It has also been endorsed by the Tuscaloosa chapters of the SCLC and NAACP and Tuscaloosa Action.
We submitted our Fair Map to the City Council multiple times but they have ignored it. Instead, they have drawn up a map that only has three Black majority districts and does not fix the racial gerrymandering problem. Their proposed map is not fair, it is not legal, it is racially gerrymandered, and it suppresses Black voters in Tuscaloosa. Despite having public meetings full of people, a petition signed by over 100 residents, and countless emails and phone calls, all in overwhelming support of the Fair Map, the Council has introduced an ordinance for their gerrymandered and illegal map for Tuesday’s regular City Council meeting. They could pass it at that meeting or next week. Either way, they are actively refusing to pass a fair and legal map.
If the Council passes the redistricting ordinance on Tuesday’s agenda they will be sued for violating the federal Voting Rights Act. The city will be tied up in costly litigation. And a court will order them to draw it again. Or they could see this as an opportunity. They could vote down the illegal and unfair map on the agenda and draw a fair map with four Black majority districts. They could be leaders for our city and our state. They could make Tuscaloosa a shining example of equality, fairness, and democracy. They could pass a fair map.
The City Council has until April to pass a redistricting map. There is no rush. They need to slow down and work with the community to draw and pass a fair and legal map. Working together collectively creates positive change, helps shape the process and gives Tuscaloosa a better outcome for the next decade. Unfair mapping and gerrymandering weaken the ability of communities to fight for their needs and have an adequate voice. Anything less than four majority-minority districts disenfranchises the majority of our city.
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