One Map Shows Why Democrats Shouldn’t Feel Too Hopeful After Alabama Win

If Tuesday’s result is any indication, gerrymandering could still make it very hard for them to take the House.

Democrat Doug Jones’ upset victory in Alabama’s Senate race on Tuesday gives Democrats renewed hope of an electoral wave in the 2018 midterm elections, but it comes with a warning—a strangely shaped one. 

In much of the country, partisan and racial gerrymandering is so extreme that it could prevent Democrats from taking control of the House next year even if they win the congressional vote nationwide by a sizable margin. And Exhibit A is Alabama.

Jones defeated Republican Roy Moore by about 1.5 percentage points on Tuesday. But the state’s congressional districts are so gerrymandered that that he received a majority of votes in just one of the state’s seven US House districts.

When Republicans swept into power in Congress and statehouses across the country in 2010, their victories coincided with the decennial census, allowing them to control the redistricting process in most states and determine how state and congressional legislative districts were drawn. The result is that most Republican legislators are ensconced in districts gerrymandered to protect their jobs. Several of these gerrymandered maps have been making their way through the courts, some challenged for unconstitutionally using race to draw lines, others for unconstitutionally using partisan considerations. But these challenges can take years, and courts, including the US Supreme Court, have not generally tried to resolve them in time for the 2018 midterms. (The notable exception is Pennsylvania, where two trials over that state’s egregiously gerrymandered map are proceeding on an expedited schedule.) 

The result is that even if courts rule against some of the extreme gerrymanders in place across the country, the playing field for voters in 2018 may still be uneven. Texas is a prime example of this problem. There, a federal court took years to find that two of the state’s congressional seats were unconstitutionally gerrymandered, requiring multiple districts to be redrawn. But the US Supreme Court put that finding on hold, and it’s likely that voters will now have to cast ballots in districts that have been found unconstitutional for being creatively drawn to give Republicans a built-in advantage.

Which brings us to Alabama. Alabama’s 7th Congressional District, the only one with a Democratic representative, contains nearly a third of all the state’s black voters, ensuring that it’s strongly Democratic, while the other two-thirds are scattered among the state’s six other districts, making them a tiny minority with little political voice. To achieve this clustering, the sprawling 7th District covers a large swatch of central Alabama, where the state’s Black Belt (originally named for the dark color of its soil) is home to many of its rural, majority-black counties. But the district is not just rural. Instead, it sends tendrils into Birmingham to the north, Montgomery to the east, and toward Mobile to the south, scooping up black areas from across the state into a single, bizarrely shaped district.  

This is what Democrats are up against as they seek to retake the House next year: Even if Democratic candidates win more votes overall, creatively drawn maps can keep them in the minority in most districts.

WE'LL BE BLUNT

It is astonishingly hard keeping a newsroom afloat these days, and we need to raise $253,000 in online donations quickly, by October 7.

The short of it: Last year, we had to cut $1 million from our budget so we could have any chance of breaking even by the time our fiscal year ended in June. And despite a huge rally from so many of you leading up to the deadline, we still came up a bit short on the whole. We can’t let that happen again. We have no wiggle room to begin with, and now we have a hole to dig out of.

Readers also told us to just give it to you straight when we need to ask for your support, and seeing how matter-of-factly explaining our inner workings, our challenges and finances, can bring more of you in has been a real silver lining. So our online membership lead, Brian, lays it all out for you in his personal, insider account (that literally puts his skin in the game!) of how urgent things are right now.

The upshot: Being able to rally $253,000 in donations over these next few weeks is vitally important simply because it is the number that keeps us right on track, helping make sure we don't end up with a bigger gap than can be filled again, helping us avoid any significant (and knowable) cash-flow crunches for now. We used to be more nonchalant about coming up short this time of year, thinking we can make it by the time June rolls around. Not anymore.

Because the in-depth journalism on underreported beats and unique perspectives on the daily news you turn to Mother Jones for is only possible because readers fund us. Corporations and powerful people with deep pockets will never sustain the type of journalism we exist to do. The only investors who won’t let independent, investigative journalism down are the people who actually care about its future—you.

And we need readers to show up for us big time—again.

Getting just 10 percent of the people who care enough about our work to be reading this blurb to part with a few bucks would be utterly transformative for us, and that's very much what we need to keep charging hard in this financially uncertain, high-stakes year.

If you can right now, please support the journalism you get from Mother Jones with a donation at whatever amount works for you. And please do it now, before you move on to whatever you're about to do next and think maybe you'll get to it later, because every gift matters and we really need to see a strong response if we're going to raise the $253,000 we need in less than three weeks.

payment methods

WE'LL BE BLUNT

It is astonishingly hard keeping a newsroom afloat these days, and we need to raise $253,000 in online donations quickly, by October 7.

The short of it: Last year, we had to cut $1 million from our budget so we could have any chance of breaking even by the time our fiscal year ended in June. And despite a huge rally from so many of you leading up to the deadline, we still came up a bit short on the whole. We can’t let that happen again. We have no wiggle room to begin with, and now we have a hole to dig out of.

Readers also told us to just give it to you straight when we need to ask for your support, and seeing how matter-of-factly explaining our inner workings, our challenges and finances, can bring more of you in has been a real silver lining. So our online membership lead, Brian, lays it all out for you in his personal, insider account (that literally puts his skin in the game!) of how urgent things are right now.

The upshot: Being able to rally $253,000 in donations over these next few weeks is vitally important simply because it is the number that keeps us right on track, helping make sure we don't end up with a bigger gap than can be filled again, helping us avoid any significant (and knowable) cash-flow crunches for now. We used to be more nonchalant about coming up short this time of year, thinking we can make it by the time June rolls around. Not anymore.

Because the in-depth journalism on underreported beats and unique perspectives on the daily news you turn to Mother Jones for is only possible because readers fund us. Corporations and powerful people with deep pockets will never sustain the type of journalism we exist to do. The only investors who won’t let independent, investigative journalism down are the people who actually care about its future—you.

And we need readers to show up for us big time—again.

Getting just 10 percent of the people who care enough about our work to be reading this blurb to part with a few bucks would be utterly transformative for us, and that's very much what we need to keep charging hard in this financially uncertain, high-stakes year.

If you can right now, please support the journalism you get from Mother Jones with a donation at whatever amount works for you. And please do it now, before you move on to whatever you're about to do next and think maybe you'll get to it later, because every gift matters and we really need to see a strong response if we're going to raise the $253,000 we need in less than three weeks.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate