Editorial: What Alabama tells us; Voting matters, gerrymandering distorts

Posted December 15, 2017 5:00 a.m. EST
Updated July 13, 2018 2:06 p.m. EDT

Doug Jones, the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, is accompanied by his wife, Louise, at an Election Night gathering of his supporters in Birmingham, Ala., on Dec. 12, 2017.  (Bob Miller/The New York Times)

CBC Editorial: Friday, Dec. 15, 2017; Editorial # 8248
The following is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company

In the end, Alabama’s shamed Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore, wearing a black hat, unsteadily rode off into the sunset of defeat.

Sure, Democrat Doug Jones’ victory was slim. But it was created by a near earthquake-like shift in Alabama’s political landscape. A year earlier, Republican Donald Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton by a 28 point margin. Republican Senate incumbent Richard Shelby had a similar margin of victory.

No matter the political party, a shift away from those margins is significant.

While there has been, and will be, plenty of evaluation and analysis of the Alabama vote,  the performance of the president and other issues – there are a couple of clear conclusions:

  • Voting matters, a lot, and turnout make a huge difference.
  • Hyper partisan racial gerrymandering distorts a state’s true political landscape.

To the degree that Republicans now regret nominating Moore as their candidate, they have only themselves to blame. When they had the choice between Moore and Luther Strange – the former congressman who’d been appointed senator to fill the vacancy when Sen. Jeff Sessions was named U.S. Attorney General – just 14 percent of Alabama’s 3.3 million voters bothered to show up at the polls to pick a nominee. Moore won with 55 percent of those who cast ballots – a mere 8 percent of all Alabama’s voters. This was no consensus nominee – even among Republicans.

Far more significant for Jones’ victory, was the make-up of the electorate in Tuesday’s Senate election. Jones optimistically hoped to see African-Americans make up 27 percent of the voters – about what Democrat Barack Obama got in 2012, even though he lost the state by a wide margin. Exit polling Tuesday indicated that about 30 percent of the electorate was African-American – a greater share than during the 2008 and 2012 elections with Obama on the ballot. The exit polls indicated that 96 percent of the African-American vote went to Jones.

With turnout weaker among other groups, the particularly strong African-American presence at the polls gave their votes even greater influence.

Doug Jones managed to win the election, but carry only one of Alabama’s seven congressional districts. How could that be?

Well, here in North Carolina, we know the answer to that all too well: pack as many African-American voters into a single district as possible. In Alabama, two-thirds of the voters in the state’s 7th District are African-American. Nearly a third of all the state’s African-American voters live in that district – meaning that the rest of the state’s African-American voters are scattered among the remaining six districts. As a result, these gerrymandered African-Americans, most of whom happen to be Democrats, see their voting strength is significantly diluted.

Alabama 2017 Senate Race

While the weekend news analysts will ponder the results of the Alabama election’s impact on the Trump presidency, the balance of power in the U.S. Senate and the 2018 elections, there is a clear message for us all:

Voting is every citizens’ most powerful civic voice. Even as those in political power seek to manipulate and weaken that voice for some, the power of a vote, the will of the people, is the only way to hold government officials accountable in the end. It’s not too early to register to vote, if you have not already done so, to be sure your voice is heard and you make a difference.

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