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AP reports real-world impact of gerrymandering; SCOTUS hears case

Khadidah Stone stands on the dividing line between her old Alabama congressional District 7, to her right with River City Church, and her new district, District 2, to her left, in downtown Montgomery, Ala., Sept. 20, 2022. The line splits Montgomery into two congressional districts and is the subject of a high-stakes case that will go before the U.S. Supreme Court, setting up a new test of the Voting Rights Act and the role of race in drawing congressional boundaries. (AP Photo / Vasha Hunt)

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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.

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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.

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In photo at left, Evan Milligan, left, speaks with AP Democracy team reporter Gary Fields in Montgomery, Ala., Sept. 19, 2022. Milligan is among the voters and advocacy groups who filed a lawsuit challenging the redistricting that splits Montgomery into two congressional districts. The high-stakes case bearing his name is being heard by the U.S. Supreme Court. In photo at right, Hank Sanders discusses the 1960s civil rights movement in Selma Ala., Sept. 20, 2022, in Selma, Ala. Sanders, a former Democratic state senator who 20 years ago helped draw the map with one minority district, acknowledged that there is a risk that with two congressional districts: “You could end up losing both,” he said, depending on how they are drawn. – AP Photos / Vasha Hunt
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