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Results from a new Alabama congressional district mandated by redistricting

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Alabama's primary yesterday was the first since federal courts ruled that the state's election district maps, the congressional districts, violated the Voting Rights Act, and the court ordered a change, which was enacted and dominated the election yesterday. The Gulf States Newsroom's Maya Miller spoke with voters. Good morning.

MAYA MILLER, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: Talk us through why this map was seen as wrong and how we got to this point.

MILLER: Yeah. So Alabama's population, their Black population is about 27%. And so, you know, with previous maps, they only had one House district, and courts ruled that, you know, based on the population, they should have two.

INSKEEP: Yeah.

MILLER: So they, you know, redrew the maps and added in some counties.

INSKEEP: OK, so the key here is to give Black Americans more voting power - Black Alabamians, anyway, more voting power. Is that right?

MILLER: Yeah. With the one map, with the one district that they had, it seemed like they were diluting the Black voting power. So, you know, they're adding a second district and hopefully getting more people, you know, engaged in understanding who's representing them.

INSKEEP: OK. I know that you've been talking with voters over the last several days, so let's give a listen to what they said.

MILLER: A few voters trickle into a polling location at Alabama State University in Montgomery. Rhonda Jenkins, who has lived in Montgomery for the past decade, looks around at the empty polling booths, surprised, on a campus that is home to about 4,000 students.

RHONDA JENKINS: This is a university. I expect to see a lot of youth going in and out of there because, you know, they're 18 years and older. They're old enough to vote. But you don't see it. And that's where we lose.

MILLER: Jenkins says she's voted in every election since she was 18. She's 65 now.

JENKINS: I don't know how we failed our children that they don't vote. I don't know. It's not important to them.

MILLER: Kahlia Bell agrees. She says she took her time researching candidates and their platforms before pledging her support. For her, voting is a lifelong lesson, one she must continually study for.

KAHLIA BELL: If you're not a part of the process, you're almost part of the problem. We have to look at voting as being that integral in our daily life. When you start looking at it like that, it becomes something that you can't miss. It becomes something you have to do.

MILLER: Historically, Montgomery is one of the most important settings for the voting rights movement. It's also one where today residents say they're concerned about poor schools, low wages and high crime. This election is their chance to have a more direct choice for a representative who could address the problems they had for years. Eldric Coleman attends Alabama State. He says that health care access is a major issue for voters in this region.

ELDRIC COLEMAN: This is the same district where people are driving 40 miles to a hospital because there are no hospitals near them in those rural areas. And that's one of the big reasons that this matters about who we elect.

MILLER: But change in this district isn't going to happen overnight, and not with just one election. James Wilson cast his ballot early Tuesday, and he says that changing the tide is going to be a long process.

JAMES WILSON: You know, it's an important step, but it has occurred all over the country. And now we're going to spend a bunch of years trying to reverse this effort by these folks to control. It's all about control, maintaining control and power.

MILLER: The new district was drawn after the Supreme Court ruled previous maps diluted Black voting power. Black voters make up more than a quarter of the state's voting population. Now, with the creation of this majority Black congressional district, Democrats are favored to pick up this seat in November.

INSKEEP: Democrats are favored. But, Maya Miller, let's talk through what you heard from voters. I know there's a racial divide that we're discussing here, a racial difference. There's also a generational difference among voters.

MILLER: Yeah. It seemed like people were a little bit, you know, disappointed in not seeing young voters there. You know, I was hearing that, you know, they should be - you know, where are they? They need to organize. They need to mobilize. And, you know, a lot of what I heard was that - yeah, it just seemed like the voters were just very surprised at how many young people they hadn't seen. And, you know, over the weekend I had attended a march for Bloody Sunday in Selma. And so the protest that year ultimately led to the creation of the Voting Rights Act of '65, which is kind of how we got here, you know, the court's ruling that the district that we had previously was violating the Voting Rights Act. So, you know.

INSKEEP: Yeah, I understand what you're saying. You're suggesting maybe there are people who haven't lived all of that history and aren't particularly connected with their voting rights at this point, with the election at this point.

MILLER: Yeah. A lot of older people, you know, they say that young generations, they understand the history, but they don't connect to it 'cause they're so far removed from it. So voting advocates, they hope to engage that 18-to-25 age group in the lead-up to November, so I guess we'll see how that turns out.

INSKEEP: Gulf States Newsroom's Maya Miller. Thanks so much. Really appreciate it.

MILLER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Maya Miller