FAIRHOPE – Many Baldwin County residents will be in new legislative districts following statewide reapportionment later this year, state officials said.
Every 10 years, districts for the Alabama Legislature, U.S Congress and Alabama Board of Education are redrawn in the state to bring population figures in line with the changes recorded in the census, Sen. Jim McLendon, R-Springville, said.
McLendon, chairman of the Senate Redistricting Committee, and Rep. Chris Pringle, R-Mobile, House Redistricting Committee chairman, met with Baldwin residents at Coastal Alabama Community College in Fairhope on Thursday, Sept. 23 as part of a series of public hearings held around Alabama.
Alabama grew by about 5 percent since the 2010 census. Baldwin County, however, grew by more than 27 percent, according to census reports. In order to have about the same number of residents in each district, boundary lines will have to be redrawn.
So you can see there's major changes,” McLendon said. “This is no surprise. We saw it coming, and you saw it coming too. There’s big changes down at that in the state, and our job is to get those back in balance.”
With about 5 million people, the districts for Alabama’s 35 Senate districts should have about 143,551 people, McLendon said.
Senate District 32, which now includes much of Baldwin County has about 33,600 more residents than the limit. Senate District 22, which includes some of north and central Baldwin has about 7,600 fewer people.
Bradley Byrne, a former U.S. Congressman and District 32 state senator, said changes will have to be made, but that District 32 should retain the Eastern Shore and Gulf Coast area of Baldwin County.
“I know that that senate district has grown dramatically,” Byrne said. “Presently, it is designed to keep a community of interests together that involves people that live along the Baldwin County coastline from the Eastern Shore, down to our beach communities in southern part of the county, they do form a community of interests, and as difficult as it's going to be to try to keep that community of interests together, I would ask that the committee and the Legislature do so.”
The 105 Alabama House districts should have about 47,850 residents. Several Baldwin House districts have more residents than the limit allows, McLendon said. House District 94 in the Fairhope area has about 11,600 more than the limit. District 95 in south Baldwin has 14,600 more and District 96, which includes Daphne and Spanish Fort, exceeds the limit by about 8,300.
“So those districts, where they have more people than they need, we’ve got to rearrange the lines,” McLendon said. “Now, one thing that can happen is a district can end up, after we do the census count and they have about the right number of people. And you'd say we wouldn't have to mess with that district. But what happens is that the adjacent district might have a big increase or decrease in population. So, one line shift on one district, it's bound to affect an adjacent district.”
The state will also have to redraw congressional district boundaries. U.S. House District 1, which includes Baldwin and Mobile counties.
Byrne said that even though Baldwin County has grown a great deal since the last census, the Legislature should keep the two counties together in the same congressional district.
“I hate to see any part of it taken away, but understand there's been enough growth in Baldwin County that it affects the congressional district, and there may have to be some changes,” Byrne said. “Let me plea for this -- Mobile and Baldwin County, need to be kept together, and they need to be kept whole. It would be very difficult for a congressman from another area, particularly someone that might have to come from Birmingham to Tuscaloosa to Selma to stay on top of the myriad of issues that are so important down here in this part of the state.”
Freya Sonestein of the League of Women Voters of Baldwin County also asked the legislators to keep the Mobile Bay area counties in the same district. She also said the state should also look at changing the boundaries of some other Alabama congressional districts, such as District 7.
“We urge you to correct the inequities in the current map,” Sonestein said. “Our congressional districts are not compact. They do not follow county borders as constitutionally prescribed and the strangely shaped District 7 appears to have packed as many people of color into a single district to ensure minority representation in that district, but weakens minorities’ voting influence elsewhere in the state.”
McLendon said Gov. Kay Ivey will call a special session of the Legislature later this year to change district boundaries.