Auburn Council not representative of population, but there’s hope



As I sit considering the recent run-off election of Alabama’s Congressional District 2, I can’t help but smile. I smile, knowing this democratic run-off was possible only because of the work, efforts and commitment of those on the ground and others involved in the Allen v. Milligan case.
Community members and organizations fought hard to ensure that fair and equitable lines could be drawn in the state of Alabama based on Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. And although I live in Lee County, Alabama’s Congressional District 3, and serve as the current president of the NAACP Lee County Branch 5038, I feel vindicated. I feel vindicated because when one wins, we all win. Recognizing that the NAACP did not win our redistricting case here in Auburn, someone else in our state did, and this win leaves many of us here in our community feeling hopeful.
Why are we hopeful? We are hopeful that the seven members of Auburn’s City Council who voted for the city’s propose map and who were so vehemently opposed to the alternative map that we proposed will now admit, or at least consider, that they could have worked with us a little better. Perhaps, if they wanted to, we could have, collectively, gotten to an alternative map that was more representative of our new city’s demographics.
We are hopeful that members of Auburn’s City Council who supported the city attorney, Rick Davidson, and specifically, his decision to hire Dorman Walker to serve as a consultant for Auburn’s redistricting, a man whose past was associated with the late Thomas Hofeller, a political strategist who was notorious for gerrymandering in the 1970s and 1980s, will more carefully vet outside consultants in the future. We are hopeful that the city will do their due diligence in procuring more qualified outside consultants by conducting their search more efficiently and thoroughly, even if means it will take more time.
More importantly, we are also hopeful that members of Auburn’s City Council can finally see, or at least consider, that Dorman Walker could have gotten it wrong. Given that he consulted with the state of Alabama and got it wrong with them — hence the Supreme Court ruling in Allen v. Milligan — maybe he also helped some members of Auburn’s City Council get it wrong here, too?

Reflecting on Auburn’s Special City Council meeting on Jan. 25, 2022, concerning adopting a redistricting map for Auburn, I am reminded of how deeply disappointed the NAACP Lee County Branch 5038 felt that day. We submitted a press release on Feb. 1, 2022, highlighting the various concerns with the meeting. We were concerned that the city disparaged the reputation of the NAACP by being complacent in allowing inferences to go forward about the NAACP’s map being illegal. Secondly, Mayor Ron Anders allowed a citizen to say disparaging and racially motivated remarks about the NAACP for almost four minutes without any attempt to remove him. The City Council also chose to protect the city’s map rather than consider another option that is more reflective of the growing and diverse population in Auburn and lastly, it appeared that the public engagement of the city with the citizens was performative. Did Auburn really want to have maps that ensured each district was reflective and representative of the electorate and the changing demographics of the city, or did they just say that that is what they wanted to do?

Similar to Alabama’s initial map, which only provided one seat as an opportunity for Black candidates to win, we in Auburn felt like more consideration should have been given to us to create a second ward and an opportunity for an additional minority candidate, as well. Comparatively speaking, two in seven Alabama voters are Black, and six of seven congressional seats are held by white politicians. And, after the census, Auburn’s total population grew by 42.6%, and Auburn’s minority population had grown to 36.8%. However, the city’s proposed map only showed one majority-minority district without consideration for anything else.

We challenged members of the Auburn City Council to do the math. If Auburn’s minority population had grown to 37%, why not draw a map that could give that same level of ward representation? Specifically, if 37% of eight wards is 2.88, we only asked for at least two (and not three) of eight representative wards to ensure a fairer voice for all voters across all wards.
Unfortunately, the majority of Auburn’s City Council did not agree with our stance for a fairer voice. Nor did they see the relevance of our argument. That is why the NAACP Lee County branch was disappointed.

However, despite our disappointments, here we are today – nearly two years later – filled with hope. We are filled with hope because of the Supreme Court Ruling in Allen v. Milligan. After a long and arduous fight regarding Auburn’s Redistricting Plan, we are hopeful that this ruling was a step in the right direction and, hopefully, a signal of dismantling inequities and unfairness in the redistricting process here and everywhere.
So, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. reminded us on two different occasions, “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” and “Know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough, can you see the stars.”
As for the NAACP Lee County Branch 5038, “We can finally see the stars.”

Laticia T. Smith resides in Auburn. She formerly served as a Redistricting Committee member for the NAACP Lee County Branch 5038 and is the current branch president.