The state Democratic Party disagrees.
Republicans, who gained control of the state Legislature in 2010 for the first time since Reconstruction, say public hearings on the redistricting provide a fairer way to conduct the process. However, many Democrats argue the hearings are a token gesture, saying not enough notice was given for the meetings and there are not enough of them.
Calhoun County residents’ public hearing is set for 3:30 p.m. today at the state capitol in Montgomery. Residents will be able to voice their opinions on how their congressional district and state board of education district should be drawn.
Alabama has seven congressional districts, which choose the state’s U.S. representatives, and eight school board districts. Calhoun County is part of the state’s 3rd Congressional District.
Redistricting is required by law every 10 years after the U.S. Census Bureau conducts its decennial census.
The legislative reapportionment committee announced last week that five public hearings would be held for the redistricting in Birmingham, Montgomery, Mobile, Huntsville and Selma. Two of the meetings were held Tuesday and two more will be held today, including the one in Montgomery.
Sen. Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, co-chairman of the reapportionment committee, said the redistricting process was being performed as fairly as possible.
“This one is kind of unique … in the past, we haven’t had public meetings like this,” Dial said. “We’re getting public input on how we get the lines drawn.”
William Stewart, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Alabama, agreed that public hearings for redistricting were a new move for the state Legislature.
“I don’t recall this procedure being used,” Stewart said. “The Democrats just worked it out in consultation with members of the U.S. Congress and passed a plan.”
Stewart said holding even a few public meetings was a step in the right direction in terms of transparency in the redistricting process.
“Yes, I think any way that calls for public input is a better way,” Stewart said. “It’s better than being behind closed doors.”
Still, state Democratic Party executive director Bradley Davidson sees unfairness in the new, mainly Republican-organized process. To Davidson, the small number of meetings combined with short notice of when the meetings would be held and the late rescheduling of the 3rd District’s hearing, from 6:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m., is all a possible effort to decrease public input.
“The lack of notice and confusion pertaining to redistricting is a joke,” Davidson said in a press release. “Someone is either incompetent or trying to hide something — or both.”
Dial, however, said the meeting places were chosen mainly because they are the most populous areas in the state.
“I know it is inconvenient for some people, but even if people cannot attend the meetings, they still have other ways to voice their opinions,” Dial said.
Any state residents who want to say something about redistricting can do so by email or by sending a letter to the state Legislative Reapportionment Office.
Dial added that the Legislature was strapped for time needed to hold the meetings since lawmakers hope to approve the new districts during the regular session.
“We’re trying to avoid the $500,000 cost of a special session to do this,” Dial said.
Sen. Jerry Fielding, D-Talladega, said he supported the reapportionment process.
“Anytime you have a public hearings, it’s always a positive,” Fielding said, adding he would be attending the Montgomery meeting. “Hopefully it’s something that can be used to make redistricting fair and appropriate.”
David Lanoue, political scientist and dean of the College of Letters and Sciences at Columbus State University in Georgia, said public hearings were always a good idea, but questioned their effect in this instance.
“How much difference they’ll actually make, I don’t know,” Lanoue said.
Lanoue said as history has shown, the party in power does what it can in redistricting efforts to help its candidates.
“When you control all the levers, you want to make the best possible environment,” Lanoue said.
However, in Alabama’s case right now, there really is not much more Republicans can do to improve their situation, he said.
“After the 2010 election, Republicans are in such a good position that if they shore up a few districts, that should cement themselves for a long time,” he said.
Dial agreed, saying any drastic changes to district lines were unlikely.
“There’s not a whole lot of changes you can make — there will be some shifting of boundaries to some degree, but I don’t see any drastic changes,” Dial said.
Lawmakers plan to meet May 24-26 and then May 31-June 2 to debate and possibly pass their redistricting plans.
To voice an opinion on redistricting, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or write a letter to the Legislative Reapportionment Office, Room 811, 11 South Main St., Montgomery, AL 36130.