Are Alabama’s House seats gerrymandered?

This map has a lot of people saying so:

 

Here’s what I think:  Alabama’s House maps might well be gerrymandered, but the Moore-Jones numbers aren’t very strong evidence.

First of all, about that weirdly shaped District 7 where so many Democrats live.  That’s a majority-minority district.  The Voting Rights Act requires the creation of some such districts, and that provision has increased the representation of racial minorities in Congress.  But most people agree they hurt Democrats overall.  You might be able to draw a district map for Alabama, Republican though it is, with two districts where Democrats have a chance instead of one.  But you’d also increase the likelihood of Alabama sending an all-white delegation.

Alabama, without District 7, is about 78% white, and white people in Alabama are about 85% Republican.  It’s not gerrymandering that Dems don’t have a chance in those six districts under normal conditions; it would happen just about any way you drew the maps.

But the Moore-Jones election was anything but normal conditions!  Did the party draw a map designed to withstand a historic Democratic turnout wave?

I doubt it.  Suppose you wanted to draw a map that would keep your big House majority even if just over half of Alabamian voters chose the Democrat.  You’ve got no chance in AL-7, and in the other 6 districts combined, the Republican is winning by 10 points.  Well, the last thing you’d do is draw an ultra-Republican district like AL-4; that makes the other districts way too close.  You’d take some of those wards and move them over to shore up AL-5, which Moore won by less than half a percent.  You might also try to concentrate the more Democratic parts of AL-1 and AL-2 into one, creating a district you might lose in a wave but leaving the rest of the state so solidly Republican that even an election more disastrous than this one for Republicans would leave five seats in GOP hands.

Outside district 7, Alabama is a very Republican state, even when offered the weakest Republican candidate in recent memory.  That’s the simplest explanation for why Moore finished ahead in districts 1-6, and it’s the one I favor.

Update:  Some people have communicated to me that in their view district 7 is more majority-minority than the Voting Rights Act requires, and that the district was drawn this way on purpose in order to increase Republican margin in the other 6 districts.

 

 

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7 thoughts on “Are Alabama’s House seats gerrymandered?

  1. Tom Church says:

    This is a nice argument from first principles, but I suppose this is also a matter of historical fact. One could look at the history of the redistricting following the 1970 census, when Alabama went to 7 districts (going from 5-3 D-R before to 4-3 after, keeping 7 of the 8 existing representatives), and look at how the district boundaries have changed since then. (I was surprised to see the Alabama delegation was still 5 D – 2 R as recently as 1993.)

  2. JSE says:

    To be clear, I’m really not trying to take a position on whether the seats are gerrymandered, which would require more study — just the limited question of whether this widely publicized map is a demonstration of gerrymandering.

  3. PC says:

    Well… The map looks strange, to say the least, with this blue tentacule in red territory, but it is impossible to have a real opinion with only percentages of votes (as opposed to number of people per district). The map https://www.washingtonpost.com/special-election-results/alabama/?utm_term=.f8378c00a3e8 (on a smaller scale) looks rather different.

  4. Noah Snyder says:

    You need to nail down what you mean by “gerrymander.” I would have said that it is clearly gerrymandered, but for legitimate reasons (ensuring congressional representation for southern black people). But I take it that for you “gerrymander” is meant to include the purpose.

    I was expecting when I looked it up that it’d be overfit for majority-minority, say 80% Black, and so would also have been designed to help Republicans, but I was wrong it’s only 60% Black. So I think I largely agree with you.

  5. Alex says:

    Helpful information. Lucky me I found your site unintentionally, and I’m shocked why this twist of fate didn’t happened earlier! I bookmarked it.

  6. It is clearly gerrymandering for district 7. We have not had a Republican in that district in the 20+ years I have been back in Alabama, since my husband was in the military. And when law makers tried to change it look what happened.

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