With the U.S. Supreme Court hearing arguments in a case challenging Alabama’s Republican-drawn congressional map, an AP multiformat team brought attention to the impact of racial gerrymandering and how it disenfranchises thousands of Black voters in the state. The entrenched strategy of politically redistricting U.S. congressional seats can be an important factor in deciding which party holds majority power in Congress — but making gerrymandering relevant and engaging to readers is a challenge.
AP’s journalists rose to the challenge with deep reporting and revealing examples from one of the most gerrymandered states in the country.
The storytelling was powered by on-the-ground reporting from Democracy team reporting Gary Fields and Alabama statehouse reporter Kim Chandler, with Supreme Court reporter Mark Sherman providing the important background and context of the case before the court. Data journalist Aaron Kessler applied demographic data to the state’s congressional maps to show in graphics how Republicans packed most Black residents into a single district and spread the rest among many other districts to dilute their vote, even when it meant dividing cities. The reporting team worked closely with Atlanta-based video journalist Sharon Johnson and freelance photographer Vasha Hunt to ensure the visuals matched the reporting.
The result was a timely package on how the cynical practice has largely robbed Black residents in Alabama of their political voice.
Among the consequences of gerrymandering cited the story:
— Black residents drawn into a majority white and rural district, represented by a congressman who never addressed their concerns about generational poverty, broadband service or Medicaid expansion.
— A pastor in a similar situation telling how his congressman voted against price controls for insulin, a major issue in a Black population with high levels of diabetes.
— The state’s lone Black representative describing how none of the other members of Alabama’s congressional delegation, all white Republicans, supported legislation to fund, among other things, community health centers that were badly needed in the state’s Black communities, or expanded health care access at historically Black colleges and universities.
— Contorted congressional district lines have diluted Black representation and even divided cities, leaving civil rights landmarks only blocks apart in different congressional districts.