Grassroots organizations react to City of Auburn’s passage of map without second-majority minority ward

Published 12:46 pm Tuesday, February 1, 2022

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The City of Auburn this week chose to be on the wrong side of history and passed a city map that failed to create a second-majority minority ward. The decision came despite the 2020 Census data showing a growing minority population and pleas from citizens representing diverse ethnic backgrounds.

After months of discussion, three different proposed votes and an analysis of an alternative map proposed by the Lee County NAACP, ,the city council voted 7-2 to adopt a map created by city staff that has only one black district. The map passed will be in place for ten years.

From 2010-2020, Lee County’s minority population grew 42.6 percent to 36.8 percent of the county’s total population.. That means to create fair and equitable representation, the city would have needed to create two majority-minority wards out of the eight total wards.

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The Lee County NAACP submitted an alternative map in December 2021 that created two majority minority districts. At the January 18 city council meeting, Attorney Dorman Walker and University of Georgia Political Science Professor Trey Hood both told the council that the map proposed by the local NAACP chapter would not pass the Gingles test and that it did not have enough voters per ward to constitute two majority minority districts.

The Lee County NAACP has maintained that it has had its map vetted by redistricting experts.

The Lee County NAACP attempted to collaborate with Auburn city officials throughout the process to create a map that was more equitable toward Auburn’s growing minority population. Prior to the city opening the public hearing on Tuesday, there was discussion among the city council, mayor and city manager about whether to open the hearing again for the public to speak since the city had already given several other times for public comment.

More than 20 people spoke in favor of the Lee County NAACP map on Tuesday night, including state NAACP President Bernard Simelton.

Simelton said that black citizens’ votes across the country are not counted equally because of packing and cracking which dilutes the black voting power.

Simelton reminded the council that a three-panel judge ruled on January 24, 2022, that Alabama’s Congressional maps passed last fall by the Alabama Legislature violated the Voting Rights Act. Walker also served as adviser for the state congressional maps.

“Based on these facts and what has happened in the state’s redistricting plan, I join with the citizens of Auburn and the NAACP, asking as duly elected officials, to set aside that the Auburn City Council has proposed and then adopt the map that is is presented to you by the NAACP of Auburn,” Simelton said.

The state passed maps based on the advice of Walker and is now in litigation with several groups. The state had to redraw its 2011 maps, which were also advised by Walker.

Police had to escort Auburn resident David Massey out of the council meeting after he called the NAACP a racist organization. Massey said in a room full of NAACP members that a lot of “liberal whites cannot accept that a lot of blacks are racists.” Mayor Ron Anders Jr., finally, after a request from the audience, had Massey removed from the council meeting and a brief recess was taken to allow for everyone to regain their composure.

“Auburn’s city manager, mayor and council chose to uphold white supremacy by rejecting a more equitable map put forward by the NAACP that would have given minority voters greater representation in line with Auburn’s population growth,” Warren Tidwell, community resilience and outreach coordinator for Hometown Organizing Project, said. “They continued to rely on false information put forward by Dorman Walker, legal counsel, who worked on the statewide congressional map that was just ruled to be in violation of the Voting Rights Act. That being said, this process brought together a multi-generational and multi-racial coalition that isn’t going to stop organizing in Auburn.”

Lee County NAACP also issued a statement, “The decision made by the council last night was disappointing. Even disheartening for some. However, we will continue to stand with the people and push for equity, as we have done throughout this process.”

The local chapter plans to reach out to the NAACP Legal Defense & Education Fund (LDF) for advice on the best avenue to proceed.

“Our commitment to this overall process is a reflection of our care for the citizens. The NAACP aims to ensure a society in which all individuals have equal rights and there is no racial hatred or racial discrimination,” the statement said.