Redistricting in Alabama

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Redistricting in Alabama
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General information
Current legislative control:
Congressional process:
State legislature
State legislature process:
State legislature
Total seats
Congress: 7
State Senate: 35
State House: 105
Redistricting in other states
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RedistrictingState-by-state redistricting proceduresState legislative and congressional redistricting after the 2010 Census
Redistricting is the process by which new congressional and state legislative district boundaries are drawn. Each of Alabama's seven United States Representatives and 140 state legislators are elected from political divisions called districts. United States Senators are not elected by districts, but by the states at large. District lines are redrawn every 10 years following completion of the United States Census. The federal government stipulates that districts must have nearly equal populations and must not discriminate on the basis of race or ethnicity.

Redistricting is a fiercely-contested issue, primarily due to gerrymandering, the practice of drawing district lines to favor one political party, individual or constituency over another. Two areas of contention include the following:

Competitiveness: Political parties or incumbents sometimes draw district lines for their benefit at the expense of proportionality and fair representation. Some argue that this practice contributes to the present lack of competitive elections. Uncompetitive elections can in turn discourage participation.[1]
Race and ethnicity: District lines sometimes minimize the influence of minority voters by disproportionately consolidating them within single districts or splitting them across several districts. These practices are examples of "packing" and "cracking," respectively.[1][2][3][4]
In Alabama, the state legislature is primarily responsible for drawing both congressional and state legislative district lines. In 2014, all elections for the United States House of Representatives were won by margins of victory of 20 percent or greater. The smallest margin of victory was 32 percent. An election is considered competitive if the margin of victory is 5 percent or less.


See also: Redistricting

Federal law stipulates that all districts, whether congressional or state legislative, must meet two primary criteria.

  1. Equal population: According to All About Redistricting, federal law "requires that each district have about the same population: each federal district within a state must have about the same number of people [and] each state district within a state must have about the same number of people." Specific standards for determining whether populations are sufficiently equal vary for congressional and state legislative districts. See below for further details.[5]
  2. Race and ethnicity: Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 states that district lines must not dilute the voting power of racial or ethnic minority groups. This provision "applies whether the denial is intentional, or an unintended end result. Courts essentially test whether the way that districts are drawn takes decisive political power away from a cohesive minority bloc otherwise at risk for discrimination."[5]

In most states, the legislatures are primarily responsible for both congressional and state legislative redistricting. However, reformers argue that partisan legislators are incapable of establishing fair district lines because they have a vested interest in the outcome. Instead, reformers advocate using different redistricting processes, including independent commissions or electronic methods. Opponents of these reforms argue that alternative processes are less accountable to voters, subject to partisan abuse, and perhaps unconstitutional.

State requirements


In addition to the federal criteria noted above, individual states may impose additional requirements on redistricting. Common state-level redistricting criteria are listed below. Typically, these requirements are quite flexible.

  1. Contiguity refers to the principle that all areas within a district should be "physically adjacent." A total of 49 states require that districts of at least one state legislative chamber be contiguous. A total of 23 states require that congressional districts meet contiguity requirements.[5][6]
  2. Compactness refers to the general principle that "the distance between all parts of a district" ought to be minimized. The United States Supreme Court has "construed compactness to indicate that residents have some sort of cultural cohesion in common." A total of 37 states "require their legislative districts to be reasonably compact." A total of 18 states impose similar requirements for congressional districts.[5][6]
  3. A community of interest is a "group of people in a geographical area, such as a specific region or neighborhood, who have common political, social or economic interests." A total of 24 states require that the maintenance of communities of interest be considered in the drawing of state legislative districts. A total of 13 states impose similar requirements for congressional districts.[5][6]
  4. A total of 42 states require that state legislative district lines be drawn to account for political boundaries (e.g., the limits of counties, cities and towns). A total of 19 states require that similar considerations be made in the drawing of congressional districts.[5][6]

Congressional redistricting

According to Article 1, Section 4, of the United States Constitution, the states and their legislatures have primary authority in determining the "times, places and manner" of congressional elections. Congress may also pass laws regulating congressional elections. Section 4 explicitly vests the authority to regulate congressional elections with the legislative branches of the states and the federal government and not with the executive or judicial branches.[7][8]

The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Places of chusing Senators.[9]

—United States Constitution

Article 1, Section 2, of the United States Constitution stipulates that congressional representatives be apportioned to the states on the basis of population. There are 435 seats in the United States House of Representatives. Each state is allotted a portion of these seats based on the size of its population relative to the other states. Consequently, a state may gain seats in the House if its population grows, or lose seats if its population decreases, relative to populations in other states. In 1964, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Wesberry v. Sanders that the populations of House districts must be equal "as nearly as practicable."[10][11][5]

The equal population requirement for congressional districts is strict. According to All About Redistricting, "any district with more or fewer people than the average (also known as the 'ideal' population), must be specifically justified by a consistent state policy. And even consistent policies that cause a 1 percent spread from largest to smallest district will likely be unconstitutional."[5]

State legislative redistricting

The United States Constitution is silent on the issue of state legislative redistricting. In the mid-1960s, the United States Supreme Court issued a series of rulings in an effort to clarify standards for state legislative redistricting. In Reynolds v. Sims, the court ruled that "the Equal Protection Clause [of the United States Constitution] demands no less than substantially equal state legislative representation for all citizens, of all places as well as of all races." According to All About Redistricting, "it has become accepted that a [redistricting] plan will be constitutionally suspect if the largest and smallest districts [within a state or jurisdiction] are more than 10 percent apart."

State process

See also: State-by-state redistricting procedures

In 37 states, legislatures are primarily responsible for drawing congressional district lines. Seven states have only one congressional district each, so congressional redistricting is not necessary. Four states employ independent commissions to draw the district maps. In two states, politician commissions draw congressional district lines.

State legislative district lines are primarily the province of the state legislatures themselves in 37 states. In seven states, politician commissions draw state legislative district lines. In the remaining six states, independent commissions draw the lines.[12]

The Alabama State Legislature is responsible for drawing both congressional and state legislative district lines. Both chambers of the state legislature must approve a single redistricting plan. State legislative district lines must be approved in the first legislative session following the United States Census. There is no statutory deadline for congressional redistricting. The governor may veto the lines drawn by the state legislature.[13]

The Alabama Constitution requires that state legislative district lines be contiguous. In addition, the state constitution mandates that state Senate districts "follow county lines except where necessary to comply with other legal requirements."[13]

In 2000, the legislative committee charged with redistricting "adopted guidelines ... asking that [congressional] districts be contiguous, reasonably compact, follow county lines where possible, and maintain communities of interest to the extent feasible." In addition, the committee agreed to "attempt to avoid contests between incumbents." Similar guidelines apply to state legislative redistricting. At its discretion, the state legislature may change these guidelines, which are non-binding.[13]

District maps

Congressional districts

See also: United States congressional delegations from Alabama
Click the above image to enlarge it.
Source: The National Atlas of the United States of America

Alabama comprises seven congressional districts. The map to the right depicts Alabama's congressional district lines as drawn following the 2010 United States Census. The table below lists Alabama's current House representatives.

Alabama delegation to the United States House of Representatives
NamePartyPositionAssumed officeTerm ends
Bradley ByrneRepublican PartyDistrict 1 2014January 3, 2017
Gary PalmerRepublican PartyDistrict 6 2015January 3, 2017
Martha RobyRepublican PartyDistrict 2 2011January 3, 2017
Mike RogersRepublican PartyDistrict 3 2003January 3, 2017
Mo BrooksRepublican PartyDistrict 5 2011January 3, 2017
Robert AderholtRepublican PartyDistrict 4 1997January 3, 2017
Terri SewellDemocratic PartyDistrict 7 2011January 3, 2017

State legislative maps

See also: Alabama State Senate and Alabama House of Representatives

Alabama comprises 35 state Senate districts and 105 state House districts. State senators are elected every four years in partisan elections. State representatives are elected every four years in partisan elections. The maps below detail the state legislative district lines as of 2014. The map on the left depicts House districts, while the map on the right depicts Senate districts.

Click the above image to enlarge it.
Alabama House of Representatives districts, as of 2014
Click the above image to enlarge it.
Alabama State Senate districts, as of 2014


There are conflicting opinions regarding the correlation between partisan gerrymandering and electoral competitiveness. Some critics contend that the dominant redistricting methods result in a lack of competitive elections. Jennifer Clark, a political science professor at the University of Houston, said, "The redistricting process has important consequences for voters. In some states, incumbent legislators work together to protect their own seats, which produces less competition in the political system. Voters may feel as though they do not have a meaningful alternative to the incumbent legislator. Legislators who lack competition in their districts have less incentive to adhere to their constituents’ opinions."[14]

Some question the impact of redistricting on electoral competitiveness. In 2006, Emory University professors Alan Abramowitz, Brad Alexander and Matthew Gunning wrote, "[Some] studies have concluded that redistricting has a neutral or positive effect on competition. ... [It] is often the case that partisan redistricting has the effect of reducing the safety of incumbents, thereby making elections more competitive."[15]

The individuals involved in redistricting must balance the desire for increased competitiveness with other principles that might conflict with that goal, such as compactness, contiguity, and maintaining communities of interest. For instance, it may at times be impossible to draw a competitive district that is both compact and preserves communities of interest.

In 2011, James Cottrill, a professor of political science at Santa Clara University, published a study of the effect of "non-legislative approaches" to redistricting on the competitiveness of congressional elections. Cottrill found that "particular types of [non-legislative approaches] encourage the appearance in congressional elections of experienced and well-financed challengers." Cottrill cautioned, however, that non-legislative approaches "contribute neither to decreased vote percentages when incumbents win elections nor to a greater probability of their defeat."[16]


See also: Margin of victory analysis for the 2014 congressional elections

In 2014, Ballotpedia analyzed the margins of victory in all 435 contests for the United States House of Representatives. Ballotpedia found that the average margin of victory was 35.8 percent, compared to 31.8 percent in 2012. An election is deemed competitive if it was won by a margin of victory of 5 percent or less. A total of 318 elections (73 percent of all House elections) were won by margins of victory of 20 percent or more. Only 26 elections (6 percent of the total) were won by margins of victory of 5 percent or less. See the table below for further details.

Note: The data below are provided only for informational purposes. It should be noted that there are conflicting opinions regarding the correlation between redistricting and competitiveness. A variety of factors at the local, state and federal levels can impact electoral competitiveness.

In Alabama, all elections for the United States House of Representatives were won by margins of victory of 20 percent or greater. The smallest margin of victory occurred in District 3, where Mike Rogers (R) won by 32.4 percent. The greatest margin of victory occurred in District 4, where Robert Aderholt (R) won by 97.1 percent. The average margin of victory in Alabama was 57 percent. See the table below for full details.

Electoral margins of victory in 2014 United States House of Representatives elections, Alabama
District Winner Margin of victory Total votes cast Top opponent
District 1 Republican Party Bradley Byrne 36.4% 152,234 Burton LeFlore
District 2 Republican Party Martha Roby 34.8% 167,952 Erick Wright
District 3 Republican Party Mike Rogers 32.4% 156,620 Jesse Smith
District 4 Republican Party Robert Aderholt 97.1% 134,752 Write-in
District 5 Republican Party Mo Brooks 49.3% 154,974 Jerry Hill
District 6 Republican Party Gary Palmer 52.5% 178,449 Mark Lester
District 7 Democratic Party Terri Sewell 96.7% 135,899 Write-in

State legislatures

See also: Margin of victory in state legislative elections

In 2014, Ballotpedia conducted a study of competitive districts in 44 state legislative chambers between 2010 and 2012. Ballotpedia found that there were 61 fewer competitive general election contests in 2012 than in 2010. Of the 44 chambers studied, 25 experienced a net loss in the number of competitive elections. A total of 17 experienced a net increase. In total, 16.2 percent of the 3,842 legislative contests studied saw competitive general elections in 2010. In 2012, only 14.6 percent of the contests studied saw competitive general elections. An election was considered competitive if it was won by a margin of victory of 5 percent or less. An election was considered mildly competitive if it was won by a margin of victory between 5 and 10 percent. For more information regarding this report, including methodology, click here.

Note: These data are provided only for informational purposes. It should be noted that there are conflicting opinions regarding the correlation between redistricting and competitiveness. A variety of factors at the local, state and federal levels can impact electoral competitiveness.

The Alabama State Legislature was not included in this study.

Partisan composition

The tables below summarize the current partisan composition of the Alabama House of Representatives and the Alabama State Senate.


SLP badge.png
Party As of May 2015
     Democratic Party 33
     Republican Party 72
Total 105


Party As of May 2015
     Democratic Party 8
     Republican Party 26
     Independent 1
Total 35

Race and ethnicity

See also: Majority-minority districts

Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 mandates that electoral district lines cannot be drawn in such a manner as to "improperly dilute minorities' voting power."

No voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure shall be imposed or applied by any State or political subdivision to deny or abridge the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color.[9]

—Voting Rights Act of 1965[17]

States and other political subdivisions may create majority-minority districts in order to comply with Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. A majority-minority district is a district in which minority groups comprise a majority of the district's total population. As of 2013, Alabama was home to one congressional majority-minority district: District 7.[2][3][4]

Proponents of majority-minority districts maintain that these districts are a necessary hindrance to the practice of "cracking." Cracking occurs when a constituency is divided between several districts in order to prevent it from achieving a majority in any one district. In addition, supporters argue that the drawing of majority-minority districts has resulted in an increased number of minority representatives in state legislatures and Congress.[2][3][4]

Critics, meanwhile, contend that the establishment of majority-minority districts results in "packing." Packing occurs when a constituency or voting group is placed within a single district, thereby minimizing its influence in other districts. Because minority groups tend to vote Democratic, critics argue that majority-minority districts ultimately present an unfair advantage to Republicans by consolidating Democratic votes into a smaller number of districts.[2][3][4]


See also: Demographics of congressional districts as of 2013 and Demographics of congressional districts as of 2013 (as percentages)

The tables below provide demographic information for each of Alabama's congressional districts as of 2013. At that time, the population of the largest congressional district, District 5, totaled 689,995, and the population of the smallest, District 7, totaled 681,346, which represented a difference of 1.3 percent.[18]

Demographics of Alabama's congressional districts (as percentages)
District Hispanic White Black Native
Asian Pacific
Other Multiple
Alabama 3.92% 66.79% 26.16% 0.48% 1.18% 0.03% 0.09% 1.35%
District 1 2.9% 65.7% 27.6% 1% 1.4% 0% 0% 1.3%
District 2 3.6% 63.3% 29.7% 0.3% 1.2% 0% 0.2% 1.7%
District 3 2.7% 69.3% 25.1% 0.3% 1.2% 0% 0.1% 1.2%
District 4 5.9% 84.6% 6.7% 0.7% 0.6% 0% 0% 1.5%
District 5 4.8% 73.9% 16.9% 0.7% 1.6% 0.1% 0.1% 1.9%
District 6 5% 78.4% 13.5% 0.2% 1.7% 0% 0.1% 0.9%
District 7 2.6% 32% 63.7% 0.2% 0.6% 0% 0.2% 0.8%
Source: United States Census Bureau, "2009-2013 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates," accessed April 8, 2015
Demographics of Alabama's congressional districts
District Hispanic White Black Native
Asian Pacific
Other Multiple
Alabama 188,294 3,205,483 1,255,663 22,969 56,429 1,241 4,503 64,695 4,799,277
District 1 19,787 451,980 190,107 6,992 9,528 65 270 8,979 687,708
District 2 24,462 434,218 203,556 2,354 7,922 142 1,211 11,637 685,502
District 3 18,776 476,399 172,551 1,889 8,455 204 421 8,302 686,997
District 4 40,209 577,799 45,921 4,588 3,832 139 184 10,569 683,241
District 5 33,003 510,101 116,706 4,577 11,114 474 583 13,437 689,995
District 6 34,491 536,716 92,699 1,536 11,722 48 797 6,479 684,488
District 7 17,566 218,270 434,123 1,033 3,856 169 1,037 5,292 681,346
Source: United States Census Bureau, "2009-2013 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates," accessed April 8, 2015

Redistricting after the 2010 census

See also: Redistricting in Alabama after the 2010 census

Following the 2010 United States Census, Alabama neither gained nor lost congressional seats. On June 2, 2011, the Alabama State Legislature approved a congressional district map. On November 21, 2011, the United States Justice Department approved Alabama's congressional district map. On June 8, 2011, Governor Robert Bentley (R) signed the map into law. On May 24, 2012, the Republican-held legislature approved state legislative redistricting maps. The bills were not read prior to passage, which provoked outcry from Democrats. Bentley signed the plan into law. The United States Justice Department approved the state legislative maps on October 5, 2012.[19][20]

Shelby County v. Holder

In April 2010, Shelby County, Alabama, filed suit against the federal government "seeking to have Section 5 [of the Voting Rights Act] declared unconstitutional." Under Section 5, certain states and jurisdictions were required to submit to the federal government proposed changes in election laws prior to enactment to ensure that the alterations were not discriminatory. This process was known as preclearance. On June 25, 2013, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Shelby County v. Holder that "the coverage formula ... used to determine the states and political subdivisions subject to Section 5 preclearance was unconstitutional." Although the court did not directly address the constitutionality of preclearance itself, "it effectively halted" the use of the preclearance mechanism.[21]

Alabama Legislative Black Caucus v. Alabama

On August 10, 2012, state Democrats, black lawmakers and others filed suit to block implementation of state legislative redistricting plans. According to the lawsuit, the plans diluted minority voting strength, violated the "one person, one vote" principle, and illegally split counties in order to consolidate Republican dominance in other districts. Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers argued that "they were complying with the Voting Rights Act in moving black voters to existing majority-minority districts."[22][23]

A three-judge Federal District Court panel rejected the challenge, but the case was appealed to the United States Supreme Court. On March 25, 2015, the court ruled in a 5-4 decision that the lower court's initial ruling was "legally erroneous." In the court's majority opinion, Justice Stephen G. Breyer wrote, "That Alabama expressly adopted and applied a policy of prioritizing mechanical racial targets above all other districting criteria (save one-person, one-vote) provides evidence that race motivated the drawing of particular lines in multiple districts in the State." The court stopped short of deeming the district lines unconstitutional, however. Instead, the court sent the case back to Federal District Court for further review.[23][24]

Law professor and redistricting expert Justin Levitt said the following about the case:[25]

[The] court unmistakably supported the contextual and nuanced assessment of race and politics that justice demands, and vigorously affirmed the place of the Voting Rights Act in that assessment. [The plaintiffs] won the first Supreme Court racial gerrymandering case on behalf of African-American voters in 55 years, and in so doing, ensured that jurisdictions could not misuse legal protections for minority communities for their own political ends.[9]

—Justin Levitt

Redistricting after the 2000 census

Following the 2000 United States Census, Democrats held majorities in both the state House and the state Senate. According to The Almanac of American Politics, "Democrats drew a fairly partisan map with an eye towards holding onto the Huntsville area 5th District and gaining the 3rd District in the east-central party of the state." Ultimately, however, Democrats lost the 5th District in 2009 and were never able to win the 3rd District. In 2010, Republicans won majority control of the Alabama State Legislature for the first time in more than 130 years.[13][26]

Redistricting ballot measures

Voting on
elections and campaigns
Ballot measures
By state
By year
Not on ballot
See also: Redistricting measures on the ballot and List of Alabama ballot measures

Ballotpedia has tracked no ballot measures relating to redistricting in Alabama.

Recent news

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See also

External links

Additional reading


  1. 1.0 1.1 All About Redistricting, "Why does it matter?" accessed April 8, 2015
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Indy Week, "Cracked, stacked and packed: Initial redistricting maps met with skepticism and dismay," June 29, 2011
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 The Atlantic, "How the Voting Rights Act Hurts Democrats and Minorities," June 17, 2013
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Redrawing the Lines, "The Role of Section 2 - Majority Minority Districts," accessed April 6, 2015
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 5.7 All About Redistricting, "Where are the lines drawn?" accessed April 9, 2015
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 FairVote, "Redistricting Glossary," accessed April 9, 2015
  7. The Heritage Guide to the Constitution, "Election Regulations," accessed April 13, 2015
  8. Brookings, "Redistricting and the United States Constitution," March 22, 2011
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Note: This text is quoted verbatim from the original source. Any inconsistencies are attributed to the original source.
  10. Brennan Center for Justice, "A Citizen's Guide to Redistricting," accessed March 25, 2015
  11. The Constitution of the United States of America, "Article 1, Section 2," accessed March 25, 2015
  12. All About Redistricting, "Who draws the lines?" accessed March 25, 2015
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 All About Redistricting, "Alabama," accessed April 16, 2015
  14. The Daily Cougar, "Redistricting will affect November election," October 16, 2012
  15. The Journal of Politics, "Incumbency, Redistricting, and the Decline of Competition in U.S. House Elections," February 2006
  16. Polity, "The Effects of Non-Legislative Approaches to Redistricting on Competition in Congressional Elections," October 3, 2011
  17. Yale Law School, The Avalon Project, "Voting Rights Act of 1965; August 6, 1965," accessed April 6, 2015
  18. United States Census Bureau, "2009-2013 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates," accessed April 8, 2015
  19., "Alabama Legislature passes redistricting plans," May 24, 2012
  20., "Bentley rejects Huntsville's alternative redistricting plan; signs Legislature's plan into law," June 8, 2011
  21. The Leadership Conference, "Shelby County v. Holder," accessed April 16, 2015
  22. The Birmingham News, "Alabama Legislative Black Caucus files lawsuit over redistricting plans," August 10, 2012
  23. 23.0 23.1 Politico, "High Court reasserts Voting Rights Act in Alabama decision," March 25, 2015
  24. The Washington Post, "Supreme Court hands win to opponents of Alabama redistricting plan," March 25, 2015
  25. New York University School of Law, "Moving the Lines: How Richard Pildes won Alabama Legislative Black Caucus v. Alabama," April 28, 2015
  26. Barone, M. & McCutcheon, C. (2013). The almanac of American politics 2014 : the senators, the representatives and the governors : their records and election results, their states and districts. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.