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Alabama will vote this Tuesday using its new Congressional map

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Super Tuesday tomorrow is also the start of primary elections that could help determine control of Congress. Right now Republicans have just a two-vote majority in the House. And a bunch of lawsuits over redistricting have changed the map of competitive races, including in Alabama, where NPR's Stephen Fowler is in Mobile. A new court-ordered district is expected to give Democrats more representation in the state. Hi, Stephen.

STEPHEN FOWLER, BYLINE: Hey there.

SHAPIRO: This was a tough redistricting fight in Alabama. Tell us about how the new boundary lines were drawn.

FOWLER: So, Ari, when Alabama's Republican-led legislature drew new House districts in 2021, things were largely the same as before, namely one of the seven districts being majority Black. That's despite Black voters making up more than a quarter of Alabama's electorate. Legal challenges over this map went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The ruling there was a bit of a surprise because two conservative justices joined the court's liberals to defend part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. That decision said that there are enough Black Alabama residents living relatively close to each other to make two majority-Black or close to majority-Black districts. It's surprising in part because of this different Supreme Court decision from more than a decade ago, also in Alabama. That's Shelby v. Holder, which weakened a key part of the Voting Rights Act that required states that had a history of discriminatory voting laws to have the federal government OK any changes, including redistricting changes, to make sure they weren't discriminating against Black voters.

SHAPIRO: So practically speaking, what does this mean for voters in Alabama who are going to the polls under new district lines?

FOWLER: Well, lots of people across South Alabama will be voting for a different member of Congress than they did before. The new second district runs from the Mississippi state line in the west to Georgia's boundary to the east, covering Mobile, Montgomery and many Black voters that now have a chance to elect a Democrat to represent them in Congress. In fact, about two-thirds of Alabama's Black voters now live in one of these two majority-Black districts. One byproduct of the change is that most of the state's Black Belt - a rural, lower-income swath of south Alabama - and two of its urban centers are no longer split between two Republican districts.

This map was not what Alabama's GOP lawmakers wanted, Ari. In fact, after defying court orders to add a majority-Black district or close to majority-Black district, a special master had to step in and set these boundaries. Things aren't resolved yet. A trial set for 2025 could determine if these lines stay. But in the meantime, there are nearly 20 people running on both sides of the aisle for this new seat, with stakes beyond deciding control of Congress. I mean, if these districts are upheld, the winner could comfortably represent this area for a long time.

SHAPIRO: Stephen, when you look at the national picture, how does the change you're describing in Alabama fit in with other rulings on congressional maps since the last elections a couple years ago?

FOWLER: Well, Democrats in New York just approved new lines that don't aggressively gerrymander things in their favor, making minor tweaks that help certain incumbents. Here in the South, a similar court ruling in Louisiana would see a second majority-Black district created that will likely add a second Democrat to the state's representation. But in North Carolina, Republicans have redrawn their map to take an evenly divided delegation into an overwhelmingly conservative delegation. Georgia lawmakers managed to increase the number of majority-Black districts without changing the number of Democrats and Republicans likely to win. So if you're keeping track of all these changes, Ari, neither party immediately comes out as an obvious winner. With this razor-thin House majority now, every single tweak of the map has the potential to make a huge difference in who will be in charge next year, especially with these primary elections coming up that will also help determine who voters choose to represent them.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Stephen Fowler in Mobile, Ala. Thank you.

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

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Stephen Fowler
Stephen Fowler is a political reporter with NPR's Washington Desk and will be covering the 2024 election based in the South. Before joining NPR, he spent more than seven years at Georgia Public Broadcasting as its political reporter and host of the Battleground: Ballot Box podcast, which covered voting rights and legal fallout from the 2020 presidential election, the evolution of the Republican Party and other changes driving Georgia's growing prominence in American politics. His reporting has appeared everywhere from the Center for Public Integrity and the Columbia Journalism Review to the PBS NewsHour and ProPublica.