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Alabama's new Congressional district map turns one seat blue after long legal battle


A panel of three federal judges has chosen a new congressional map for Alabama. It's expected to result in one additional Black and Democratic congressperson for the state and one fewer white and Republican member. This comes after lengthy court battles brought by plaintiffs who said the map drawn by the state Legislature violated the Voting Rights Act. Troy Public Radio's Kyle Gassiott has these reactions.

KYLE GASSIOTT, BYLINE: On a sunny Saturday morning, Danny Banks is picking up produce at a curb market in downtown Montgomery, just blocks away from the statehouse. When asked whether past elections in Alabama were fair to all voters, both Black and white, Banks doesn't hesitate.

DANNY BANKS: In my opinion, I don't feel it has been. Maybe this is an opportunity to have some fairness.

GASSIOTT: Alabama has seven congressional districts. With the new maps, Black voters will now have a reasonable opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice in two of them. Standing near a table of baked goods, Banks has a pastry-based analogy of the new maps.

BANKS: It's like a pie. There's a slice, and there's enough for everyone to have something in their favor.

GASSIOTT: Cutting up that pie to create new districts has been contentious. After a lower court and the Supreme Court ruled that the state needed maps that better represented Black voters, the job of redrawing them went to the Alabama Legislature. The Republican-dominated Legislature failed to create reasonably representative maps, and so the lower court ordered a special master to draw the maps that were chosen this week. John Wahl is the chairman of the Alabama Republican Party. He believes it's the new maps that are a violation of the Voting Rights Act, creating new districts that are gerrymandered by race.

JOHN WAHL: They force the state, they force the special master and they force voters to think about people based on the color of their skin and race.

GASSIOTT: Wahl says some Republicans may make the decision in the coming weeks to run in these new districts. The question on their minds is, how winnable are they? Republicans also say they're not done trying to appeal the ruling that created the maps.

ANTHONY DANIELS: But I think that the U.S. Supreme Court would deny that appeal. I really, truly believe it.

GASSIOTT: Anthony Daniels is a Democrat and the minority leader in the Alabama House. He says Democrats are also not entirely happy with the maps chosen this week. They have concerns that in the future, Black voters will move from the area to find different jobs across the state. That might mean fighting again to have new districts redrawn.

DANIELS: So you'll be back to where you are in 10 years from now, trying to figure out a way to get the districts to change to be a majority, minority or quite close.

GASSIOTT: Still, Daniels says the new maps are better than the old ones, and he reminds his colleagues...

DANIELS: At the end of the day, oatmeal is better than no meal.

GASSIOTT: Democrats have already started the process of qualifying for the next election, and Republicans start later this month. The first primary is in March 2024.

For NPR News, I'm Kyle Gassiott in Montgomery, Ala. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Kyle Gassiott