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A spirit that is not afraid

Council postpones redistricting plan vote

<p>Auburn's City Council meets in the City Council Chamber at 141 N. Ross St. on May 4, 2021.</p>

Auburn's City Council meets in the City Council Chamber at 141 N. Ross St. on May 4, 2021.

The City Council postponed its decision to vote on the redistricting plan again with the absence of Mayor Ron Anders and Mayor Pro Tem Beth Witten. The ordinance was postponed to a special called meeting on Jan. 25 to ensure that the City can publish changes in time for Feb. 22. 

Anders and Witten are out for health related reasons and the Council voted for Tommy Dawson of Ward 8 to preside over the Council temporarily. Dawson and the rest of the Council members postponed the vote, but still held the public hearing for the ordinance. 

The City’s legal team presented a debriefing on why the City’s proposed map satisfies the legal needs and analyzed data as to why the NAACP map does meet the legal standard for the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Trey Hood, a professor of political science from the University of Georgia, was asked to do a statistical analysis on NAACP plan. 

The analysis included Auburn’s racial demographics based on voting age population (VAP) and citizens voting age population (CVAP). 

Hood explained that based on the NAACP’s redistricting that the non-hispanic white VAP is under 50 percent of the population in Ward 6, but the CVAP for non-hispanic whites is over 50 percent which would not make it eligible to be a majority-minority ward. 

Hood uses the Gingles Test, a three prong test derived from a U.S. Supreme Court case and is used to determine voter dilution in districts, to assess each of the proposed majority-minority wards. 

The three prongs of the Gingles Test:

  • Is the minority group sufficiently large and compact to form a majority in a single-member district?
  • Is the minority group politically cohesive?
  • Is the preferred minority candidate of choice typically defeated by a majority white bloc vote?

“My assessment on prong one is that, looking at the CVAP population, none of the City Council districts proposed in this particular plan would function as majority-minority districts,” Hood said. 

Hood used the 2018 mayor’s race and 2018 mayor’s runoff race for statistical analysis of the cohesiveness of the minority groups and concluded that there was no statistical evidence of racially polarized voting patterns. 

“Now one caveat, we can talk about this more, there is only four precincts to analyze which gives us very little statistical power,” Hood said. 

Hood said since there is no evidence of racially polarized voting in prong two there is no support for prong three and he further concluded all three prongs could not be sustained.

Dorman Walker, City’s map consultant, who was hired to analyze both the City’s map and any other alternative maps including the NAACP’s faced criticism from residents. Walker praised the City’s efforts and called it’s plan “exemplary” while claiming the NAACP map does not meet the legal standards and redistricts based on minority groups. 

“I think redistricting should be done in a way that makes our democracy function and I certainly think we have to be very vigilant in the protection of minority voting rights in order to have a democracy,” Walker said. 

City Attorney Rick Davidson and Walker both said that the City staff tried to redraw the alternative map to meet legal criteria and said that they were unable to do so. 

Members of the NAACP and residents were able to respond to debriefing and the claims made by Davidson and the legal team. 

Tabitha Isner, a Montgomery-based data consultant and NAACP map expert, spoke first at the public hearing and refuted many of the claims made by the legal council about the NAACP proof of concept map. 

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Isner said she found it “bizarre” that the NAACP’s map was being questioned on its legality. She said for a map to be legal the districts must have an equal population size and must comply with the Voting Rights Act. 

“The Voting Rights Act specifically says that a map should not dilute the voting power of minorities,” Isner said. “What does that mean?”

Isner said additional districts are allowed to be created where minorities have an opportunity to elect a candidate of their choosing. 

“It’s not a law that sets a ceiling on how many seats can be made available to minorities,” Isner said. “It is a law that sets the floor.”

Isner then explained that the Gingles Test prongs are meant for arbitration in court and that it is up to the City Council to pick a legal map based on what they think is the best for Auburn. 

Isner then talked about the statistical analysis presented by Hood. She mentioned the debate on including a question of citizenship in the 2020 Census and how it was not included. The Census Bureau makes estimates on who is a citizen and has not released CVAP data for the 2020 Census. 

“CVAP does not have to be used, precisely because it is an inaccurate estimate and only an estimate of the citizen voting age population,” Isner said. 

In response to Hood’s analysis of racially polarized voting, Isner points out that Hood had mentioned it is not an adequate sample size to only use the City's four precincts and that the Supreme Court looks at the totality of circumstances.

Isner said the totality of circumstances is mentioned often by the courts and refers to an analysis where decisions are based on all available information rather than by a defined rule. 

Some of these points in the totality of circumstances include the history in a municipality of electing minorities to office, history of racially polarized voting in the state at large and history of discrimination in the state or locality. 

There is no way of knowing how the Supreme Court would rule on the totality of circumstances since Auburn’s districting maps have not been to court before. 

Isner then spoke to the claims of gerrymandering in the NAACP map stating that gerrymandering means manipulating a map to benefit one group over another and that it is hard to not have a map that does do this. 

There are legal forms of gerrymandering in which the courts will not intervene in and Isner said that gerrymandering is only a problem when it comes to racial gerrymandering. 

Isner responds to a comment made by Walker in which he said the map was drawn with the intention of being “race-blind”.

“The court has repeatable said that although the ideal is that the process be race neutral it also, the process cannot, once again dilute the power of the minority to elect representatives of their choosing if they have adequate power to do so,” Isner said. 

Isner concluded by asking the council to consider the map “not because they’re being forced, but because it’s the right thing to do.”

Other members of the NAACP spoke at the public hearing asking Council members to use their power to meet with the City Manager, be more collaborative in the process and pointing out that the Council is not representative of the increase in minority population. 

Each person that spoke both during the public hearing and during the open forum received an applause. 

Connie Fitch Taylor of Ward 1 questioned why the NAACP would propose an illegally map and brought to light that the NAACP had treated legal action and that the Council was advised to be cautious when discussing legality issues surrounding the ordinance. 

Billye Welburn, resident of Auburn, brought up at the open forum that from what they heard the NAACP does not want to use legal action, but they may use it as a tool. 

“For that possibility to exist and for us to respond to that possibility by saying well were not going to collaborate because it could open us up to that risk seems to be a self-defeating and self-fulfilling prophecy,” Welburn said.

Welburn continued by pointing out the system in place that brings power and protection to white people. He said he believed it would be a powerful declaration to take on that risk to right the injustices that have occurred historically. 

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