Redistricting efforts underway

Published 4:54 pm Friday, October 14, 2011

By Cam Ward

Last week the Joint Legislative Committee on Reapportionment began its public hearings throughout the state.  The purpose of these meetings has been to gain input from citizens regarding the redrawing of state House and Senate districts.

The Joint Committee consists of 22 members: one member of the House of Representatives from each congressional district, four at-large members of the House of Representatives, all appointed by the Speaker of the House; one member of the Alabama Senate from each congressional district, and four at-large members of the Senate, all appointed by the Lieutenant Governor.

The Constitution of Alabama, 1901, requires the Alabama Legislature to redraw the state lines during the first session after official completion of each census of the United States. The census is conducted once every 10 years throughout the entire country. Redistricting is mandated in order that legislative districts may be adjusted to reflect population shifts within Alabama. A good example of this shift would be the large number of citizens moving from Jefferson County into suburban St. Clair and Shelby counties over the last 10 years.

The total number of legislative seats includes 35 Senate districts and 105 House districts. In the past, the Joint Committee has tried to keep the state legislative districts within 5 percent of the average population of all House and Senate districts combined. In other words, if the average House district has 43,000 people, then all the districts needed to be drawn within 5 percent of that population figure.

This year, the committee is going to draw the districts within 1 percent population deviation from one another, ensuring that all legislators represent almost the exact same number of people.

According to the latest census, the average Senate district should contain 136,564 people. Senate District 14, which I represent, is the second most overpopulated Senate district in the state with 168,669 citizens from parts of Jefferson, Shelby, Bibb and Chilton counties. This means it is overpopulated by 32,160 people and therefore will be geographically reduced quite a bit.

It is a tough process because I am happy with the current district that I have; however, it will have to conform to the one-man, one-vote principle laid out in the Constitution.

As we moved forward with these deliberations, I expect new House and Senate maps to be drawn after the first of the year. Public input into the drawing of these district lines will be crucial to having fair representation in the legislature.

As soon as the first draft of these new lines is proposed, I will make certain to publish them on my website for your review. Although it will be a challenging process, it is extremely important that the public attend these hearings and share their thoughts so that lines can be drawn in a fair manner to all citizens of Alabama.

–Cam Ward is the state senator representing Chilton County.