BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Two Birmingham city councilors have expressed concerns over immediately putting into effect a newly drawn political map. One of the councilors, Darrell O’Quinn, said that implementing the new map immediately would amount to “nullifying” the Aug. 21 election and is a form of “voter suppression.”
In Tuesday’s regularly scheduled city council meeting, Councilors Darrell O’Quinn and Valerie Abbott both raised questions about moving forward with implementing the new map, which was drawn to reflect population shifts documented in the 2020 census.
O’Quinn said he has heard from constituents that are concerned that because they may soon be represented by another councilor, their participation in the Aug. 2021 election is being “nullified.” He said that between 10% and 15% of Birmingham’s citizens will have a new councilor following the map’s approval.
“The concern, again, is that once this goes into effect, if we do it six months into a four-year term, you’ve essentially nullified the participation of all of those people in areas of the city that are moving into a different district,” O’Quinn said in the meeting. “So, if you’re nullifying someone’s vote, in my opinion, that’s equivalent to voter disenfranchisement and it makes them, you know, discouraged to come out and vote the next time. So that’s, in my opinion, a form of voter suppression.”
O’Quinn, who represents district five, said that he preferred the council ask Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall for an opinion related to when the redistricting map would go into effect if passed. Julie Barnard with the city attorney’s office said that while the question isn’t settled law, her opinion is that the redistricting would take effect upon passage.
Councilor Crystal Smitherman took exception to the suggestion that implementing a map that better reflects the city’s current population distribution is “voter suppression.” She said that in her prior work for the Democratic Party, she had to listen to the stories of voters who faced “actual” suppression.
“That was real, though, suppression in 2020,” Smitherman said. “Not this.”
Smitherman said that at some point, opposition to redistricting isn’t simply about a lack of understanding.
“Everything that’s going on is just crazy to me,” Smitherman said. “I’ve seen people in a completely different light. How long do we have to explaining these maps before people just don’t want to understand what’s going on.”
Councilor Abbott, who has previously expressed concerns over the map itself, echoed O’Quinn’s sentiments, saying that there’s no reason to rush the map’s implementation because no law requires immediate redistricting. Getting an opinion from the AG, she said, would provide “cover” for the council.
“Why not ask for the attorney general’s opinion?” Abbott asked. “I guess it may just make a few of us more comfortable, but just do it.”
Council President Wardine Alexander also weighed in on the debate, saying that she thinks councilors should remember that Birmingham is responsible for redistricting the city, not the Alabama Attorney General.
“I would like to ask us to think about the fact that this is our ordinance,” Alexander said. “We’re setting our nine districts to prepare for future elections which we all agreed upon in our guidelines.”
In the end, the Birmingham City Council voted 8 to 1 declaring their intent to consider final passage of the redistricting map at next week’s city council meeting, with only Abbott voting no. Asked why he voted to advance toward final passage, O’Quinn said while he’s not comfortable with immediately implementing the map, he has no objection to discussing the ordinance next week.