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Mini Redistricting Challenge: Alabama

by: DavidNYC

Sun Jan 23, 2011 at 4:48 PM EST

Diarist roguemapper has a great post up featuring the creation of new majority-minority VRA districts in several southern states. I like these maps, but I don't expect the Obama DOJ to be this aggressive in requiring new maj-min seats - and I also think that many southern legislators probably won't be interested in drawing lines like these. As most Swingnuts are aware, heavily black districts have operated as Democratic vote sinks for two decades now, helping Republicans win seats abruptly depopulated of reliable blue votes. But with the southern realignment finally complete, I don't think there are too many GOP officials in Alabama, for instance, who think they can't easily hold 6 of 7 congressional districts.

In fact, this is exactly what the Republicans are planning on:

The likely result is a new congressional map that protects all six Republican congressmen and keeps intact the majority black district home to the only Democrat, according to U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Saks.

So the challenge to you is to create a map that packs as many African Americans into a single district in Alabama as you possibly can. No rules, and no prizes other than bragging rights (or maybe a job working for the Republicans on the redistricting committee). I figure there are three rough categories, though: compact (aka goo-goo fetishist-style), ugly but beautiful (aka abgin-style), and supremely ugly with touch-point contiguity (aka andgarden-style). Post as many entries (in as many styles) as you like.

Have fun, and share your results in comments!

P.S. If for some reason you've made it this far but haven't yet encountered the glory that is Dave's Redistricting App, well go and check it out! It's the essential tool for any citizen redistricting efforts.

UPDATE: So far it looks like the most extreme gerrymander belongs to goohiost7, whose district is 81.5% African American.

DavidNYC :: Mini Redistricting Challenge: Alabama
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I'll take the challenge
I've done a lot playing around with maps of Alabama, so I like this challenge.

24, male, African-American, CA-24, Democrat. Chair of the SSP Black Caucus.

If you've played around with Alabama alot,
what is the most Republican district you can draw for Spencer Bachus in AL-6? He wouldn't need it, as R+29 AL-6 would elect him even in the live girl/dead boy scenario. However, I was curious to see if someone is able make the most Republican district in the country into an R+35 or R+40.

I miss SSP. Republican, IL-10

[ Parent ]
It's possible to push it up a couple of points
Adding Blount and Cullman Counties would definitely push the PVI up some.

24, male, African-American, CA-24, Democrat. Chair of the SSP Black Caucus.

[ Parent ]
Could that bump it up to
R+35 or so? I've always been amazed by how Jose Serrano can represent a D+41 district, but the most Republican district is "only" R+29. Of course, this is due to those most heavily Democratic seats being in urban areas, but I'm wondering how close Republicans can come to replicating seats as similarly Republican.

I miss SSP. Republican, IL-10

[ Parent ]
It would at least be R+32 I think
Republicans would probably rather not have PVI's that high since they'd rather spread out their votes rather than pack them together.

24, male, African-American, CA-24, Democrat. Chair of the SSP Black Caucus.

[ Parent ]
I'm aware
that the GOP likes to spread out the PVI of their seats, I was just curious. Thank you for the potential information!

I miss SSP. Republican, IL-10

[ Parent ]
Settlement Patterns
There aren't many places where one could even come close to making a R+40 district. Republican strength is spread more evenly than that in most places. For various reasons, Democrats of all races tend to concentrate more.

If you could figure out how to make an essentially-all-white district in a Deep South state, that's probably how'd you do it. But that's generally not easy since the states where whites vote Republican enough at rates sufficient to make this work also tend to be the states where it's tough find enough areas where no blacks live.

There's East Tennessee but it's hard to make a whole CD without including one of the bigger cities in that area, which, while pretty Republican by national standards, are going to mess with one's ability to get to anything close to R+40.  

West Texas might be your best bet, although any place where there's a decent sized Hispanic vote has to be avoided too.  

36, M, Democrat, MD-03

[ Parent ]
Western Oklahoma
Avoid the cities/towns and you should be able to get a PVI above R+35.

[ Parent ]
Here it is

I even tweaked AL-5 so that a Blue Dog has less of a chance of re-claiming it in the future.

24, male, African-American, CA-24, Democrat. Chair of the SSP Black Caucus.

What are the stats?

[ Parent ]
AL-1 67% White, 28% Black
AL-2 67% White, 28% Black
AL-3 75% White, 21% Black
AL-4 81% White, 14% Black
AL-5 82% White, 10% Black
AL-6 76% White, 18% Black
AL-7 64% Black, 32% White

I just noticed an connecting one district error on the map, which I just corrected. Here's the corrected one.

Uploaded with

24, male, African-American, CA-24, Democrat. Chair of the SSP Black Caucus.

[ Parent ]
It's kind of funny
that putting 64% of blacks in one district may be considered a VRA violation. Yet the other six have a higher percentage of whites.

[ Parent ]
It's not that
it's that it leads to a racial gerrymander and goes against one of the new tenents of VRA when they renewed it in 2006.

Ad hoc, ad loc and quid pro quo!
So little time, so much to know!

[ Parent ]
That's quite facetious criticism of the VRA.
Don't think you can call comparable the history of voting rights and representation of blacks and whites, especially not in a state like Alabama.

[ Parent ]
With all due respect, that's a poor argument
White voters are going to be a majority in most of the districts regardless of how you draw the map. It's not even remotely an issue of the VRA.

24, male, African-American, CA-24, Democrat. Chair of the SSP Black Caucus.

[ Parent ]
Technically if you were going off of demographics
should'nt two districts be majority-minority since almost a third of the population is? Perhaps even 3 not that it would happen but still in a world where everything is fair heh.  

CO-02 (college)/FL-15 (home).  

[ Parent ]
By that logic, yes
And the fact the black population so spread around also is a sensible reason for another district.

24, male, African-American, CA-24, Democrat. Chair of the SSP Black Caucus.

[ Parent ]
I'm not much of a mapper but my sense is that all they need to do to keep all 6 districts is add St Clair county to district 3.  If you wanted to be really crazy maybe you'd try to take the black precincts out of Montgomery and put them back into district 7.  The only major question left is whether district 5 has experienced a permanent shift to the repubs or rather the voters might consider a dem later on.  

Another important issue
that roguemapper has identified is that packing so many black voters into one district may violate the VRA as renewed in 2006, whether or not the state purports to do so on the basis of race or politics. That's because the new version prohibits discriminatory effects, not just intent.

It also seems likely that every map posted to this page would be an unconstitutional racial gerrymander. We have only racial data for Alabama, and you can't use that as a proxy for voting behavior (even though in Alabama, it is).

here it is, in all it's repulsive glory
it's 68% black

Can I play?
OK, I couldn't resist.

There is no touch-point contiguity (but it's close at spots).

Here are the stats:

665,991 people (+5 over equal)

81% black
16% white

By bi-secting the state laterally
Have you made it difficult or impossible to create six other equal-sized districts?

[ Parent ]
That's an excellent point.

Here's an 80% AA district (17% white) without the lateral bisection:

[ Parent ]
Mine, also 80% AA.
531,732 out of 666,322, or 79.80%.


[ Parent ]
You edged me out!
531,547 out of 666,186 on my map.

Astoundingly similar.

[ Parent ]
I'm pretty sure our Birmingham section is exactly the same, with the exception of the connector to the rest of the district.

I think our Mobile tendrils are exactly the same, as well.

[ Parent ]
Here's an 81/16 district w/o bisection

Just so you have the specifics, B:538,458/W:107,629

Male, VA-08

[ Parent ]
One problem with that map
The area south of your VRA district is too much for one district but too little for two districts, I believe. So the rest of the map wouldn't work out.  

Male, VA-08

[ Parent ]
Oh, wait, somebody beat me to it.

Male, VA-08

[ Parent ]
Bisection could conceivably be okay
If you were using touch-point and had configured things accordingly.

[ Parent ]
does anyone know which state owns the chattahoochee river (Alabama's eastern border)? If you wanted to get really ugly you could give one district river contiguity, assuming that the river lies in AL. No idea if there's any precedent for that, but it would be theoretically legal, I think.

Male, VA-08

[ Parent ]
Bodies of water are divided in the middle.

[ Parent ]
but not always. The Potomac River, for example. Although odds are that the Chattahoochee is split in the middle, I was wondering if anyone could confirm that.  

Male, VA-08

[ Parent ]
Alabama v. Georgia, 64 U.S. 505 (1859)
The western line of the cession on the Chattahoochee river must be traced on the water-line of the acclivity of the western bank, and along that bank where that is defined; and in such places on the river where the western bank is not defined, it must be continued up the river on the line of its bed, as that is made by the average and mean stage of the water, as that is expressed in the conclusion of the preceding paragraph of this opinion.

So Georgia owns the Chattahoochee, assuming average water levels. Although you could probably still design a really really ugly district using the shoreline or something. (Hey, if Interstate median strips have been used....)

23, male, Democrat, IA-02 (previously CA-26, PA-06, CA-06)

[ Parent ]
Great research
Thanks for the information.  

Male, VA-08

[ Parent ]
Amazing research! Digging up a Supreme Court case from 1859... and the fact that there even was a Supreme Court case literally directly on point! Awesome.

[ Parent ]
I Look At It This Way
On one level, those are probably the only seats we're going to have in many Deep South states going forward. So being more aggressive about creating them isn't a bad thing.

On another level, though, a precedent that creates as many of them as possible hurts us in other states where they serve as Democratic vote sinks.

36, M, Democrat, MD-03

I like these maps, but I don't expect the Obama DOJ to be this aggressive in requiring new maj-min seats

I agree that such a move would not sit well with Republican legislators in the South, but any reason why you think the DOJ will not be aggressive for political advantage as the Bush DOJ in 1991 was for example? They could likely get away with it legally under VRA justification right?

"What do they have to lose?" comes to mind
It seems to me the worse that could happen is the Republican legislatures get to do what they were intending to do anyhow.

Am I missing something with that viewpoint?

[ Parent ]
This is getting a little far afield
From the mission of SSP, but I just don't see the Obama administration being interested in pursuing such a racially-charged fight, especially when this issue can be so simplistically portrayed in the media as Obama looking to help blacks at the expense of white voters. (Yes, I know that's inaccurate - but the tradmed is usually inaccurate!)

[ Parent ]
Ugh... I lament the lamestream media

NY-14, DC-AL (college) Distraught Mets fan

[ Parent ]
I meant loathe... long day...

NY-14, DC-AL (college) Distraught Mets fan

[ Parent ]
Also, if the DoJ shows signs of attempting this
then I anticipate that southern states will likely to running to the DC Circuit for a declaratory judgment.  

Off-Topic VRA question
Does a district need to be 50% of a specific group to be a minority-majority VRA protected district or can it be a mix of say 30% AA and 25% Hispanic?  I'm not quite sure where the law comes down on that one.

Its the second one
I believe there are seats in New York that are described under that assumption

[ Parent ]
You are correct
This page from the NAACP has good explanations. People often get confused between "coalition" districts and "crossover" districts:

Minority-Coalition Districts: A minority-coalition district is a type of majority-minority district in which two or more minority groups combine to form a majority in a district. Thus, a district that is 25% African-American, 20% Latino and 6% Asian American is a majority-minority district, but it is not a majority African-American, majority- Latino, or majority-Asian American district. In most jurisdictions, when two or more minority groups form a coalition that collectively meets the Thornburg v. Gingles requirements, the coalition may be able to seek relief under Section 2 if officials fail to create a minority-coalition district. The Supreme Court has not addressed this issue.

Crossover Districts: A crossover district is one in which minorities do not form a numerical majority but still reliably control the outcome of the election with some non-minority voters "crossing over" to vote with the minority group. While states can and should consider creating crossover districts, the Supreme Court in 2009 held that the Voting Rights Act does not require their creation.

The second graf is referring to Bartlett v. Strickland.

[ Parent ]
For the record
The VRA districts that I created for Alabama both have a 53% AA majority.

The Mississippi districts I created have a 52% AA majority & a 48% AA plurality.

The Louisiana districts are 49% AA plurality (the New Orleans seat) and 48% AA plurality (the Baton Rouge seat). I suspect that more accurate Census figures would permit an outright AA majority seat for Baton Rouge, but that remains to be seen.

The initial Arkansas district I created is 46% AA.

[ Parent ]
My Map
I created a map, but I don't know how to post the picture of it in a post.

The demographics are
Blacks 542,857 (81.49%) Whites 104,647 Total 666,140

20,male,NE-02,college and voting OH-15

Step 1: Upload the image file to a site like

Step 2: In a comment here, use the following code:

[img src="url"]

Replace the brackets with angle brackets (i.e., < and >), and put the URL of your image in the space between the quotation marks.

[ Parent ]
Thanks for the help

Here is the map with the Demographics
Blacks 542,857 (81.49%) Whites 104,647 Total 666,140

20,male,NE-02,college and voting OH-15

[ Parent ]
my try

CD1 = 81% white
CD2 = 75% white
CD3 = 75% white
CD4 = 73% white
CD5 = 80% white
CD6 = 73% white
CD7 = 35% white

i think mine is a more plausible gerrymander, keeping all CD's besides #7 >70% white by splitting the Birmingham metro region between 5 Cd's

still smiling David :)

Good idea :)

They are interesting maps here.

My submission
CD1: Wh 500,143  Bl 130,280; Tot 666,140 [+154]
CD2: Wh 466,391, Bl 163,858; Tot 665,948 [-38]
CD3: Wh 502,641, Bl 137,786; Tot 666,006 [+20]
CD4: Wh 565,029, Bl 52,962; Tot 666,096 [+110]
CD5: Wh 515,286, Bl 107,781; Tot 665,854 [-132]
CD6: Wh 527,197, Bl 95,605; Tot 665,907 [-79]
CD7: Wh 114,307, Bl 532,705; Tot 665,949 [-37]

I'm pretty sure that all of the incumbent Republicans live in their districts, which are all over 70% white.  CD7 is 80.0% African-American.

23, male, Democrat, IA-02 (previously CA-26, PA-06, CA-06)

How do I post my map
I got one 81% black 17% white.  

Two steps
First, upload the image to an image-sharing site.

Then, use the code [img src="URL of image"] in your comment, with angle brackets substituted for the square brackets.

23, male, Democrat, IA-02 (previously CA-26, PA-06, CA-06)

[ Parent ]

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