“It Goes Back To Redistricting:” Black Voters and the Fight for Fair Representation 

Gray background with dark blue cutouts of the following states: south carolina, arkansas, florida, louisiana, mississippi, tennessee, texas, georgia, north carolina and alabama. Over each state are red squiggly lines to depect district lines.

“I’m sure you’ve heard many young people you know, or older people say they just don’t feel like they have a seat at the table. They don’t feel like their voice matters, and that it goes back to redistricting.” 

When I spoke with Baton Rouge native and community organizer Kaitlyn Joshua, this is what she told me. Joshua has spent her career in Baton Rouge organizing her community and advocating for a host of issues from reproductive justice to environmental issues and everything in between. 

She described how her personal experience in the state led her to the work she does now, telling me how her experience with the lack of reproductive rights and access to abortion care in Louisiana “changed [her] trajectory and [her] passions in the work.” It’s why she’s “so passionate about redistricting” and why she continues to do “a ton of work on the local and state level to advocate for, of course, more Black and brown representation.”

After the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs, Louisiana enacted a complete ban on abortions that is so severe that it has made it difficult for physicians to even offer basic miscarriage care. The state has the second highest maternal mortality rate in the U.S., one of the highest infant mortality rates in the country and overall health outcomes that are  disproportionately more severe for Black women. These draconian abortion and reproductive health care policies are made far worse by the fact that those who want change feel virtually unheard. 

As we celebrate Black History Month, it is incredibly important to acknowledge that our democracy still does not work for, or include, everybody. Oftentimes, Republicans use their map drawing power to exclude communities of color from having the ability to really impact how their communities are represented. After the release of 2020 census data, Republicans enjoyed this power in 19 states. What resulted was an avalanche of unfair maps, particularly in the South, that discriminated against communities of color.

Take Joshua’s home state for example. Prior to 2024, even though Black Louisianans constitute 31.2% of the state’s voting-age population — and over 33% of the total population — Black voters could only elect a candidate of choice in one congressional district. 

Black voters filed two lawsuits that challenged the state’s 2022 congressional map alleging that by failing to include a second minority opportunity district, this new congressional map diluted the voting strength of Black residents. One of those voters was Ambrose Sims. 

When I asked Sims about how redistricting and lack of fair representation in Congress impacts his life, he wrote about how difficult it is to successfully elect Black candidates: “Since moving to West Feliciana Parish in 2005, I have been involved in four congressional campaigns in the Louisiana 5th Congressional District…During the period from 2005 to date, three black candidates have run for the 5th congressional seat and have been resoundingly defeated neither candidate exceeding 40% of the vote.” 

This lack of representation has directly impacted Sims and many others in the district. He explained that internet connectivity is an issue for parts of rural Louisiana and when support has come in, it has mostly been to a surrounding predominantly white area. 

“Black residents in the parish have grown accustomed to subpar or no public services. Unfortunately, this has resulted in lower black participation in local, statewide and national elections whereby a large percentage of eligible black voters do not think their votes count because nothing has or will change,” Sims said. 

Now, as a result of lawsuits filed by Black voters, Louisiana will have a new congressional map for 2024 where Black voters will have the opportunity to elect their candidate of choice in two — as opposed to one — congressional district. 

With the new district will come new candidates who could potentially represent the state’s Black voters in the 6th Congressional District, which stretches from Caddo Parish to East Baton Rouge Parish. But as Angelle Bradford — state legislative Lead for Moms Demand Action — emphasized, representation is not enough to just elect Black candidates. It is integral to elect candidates who “envision the same form of economic freedom, liberation from white supremacy and predatory capitalistic policies, all systems that fund and undergird whether or not our candidate of choice can even afford to run for office.” 

News Alert Louisiana Legislature Passes Congressional Map With Two Majority-Black Districts

In a landslide 86-16 vote, the Louisiana House passed a bill that would create a new congressional map, which features two majority-Black districts, after being ordered to do so by a court order.

While it is good news that Louisiana will have a new map come 2024, the fight continues across the South. Lawsuits in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas all challenge congressional or legislative maps arguing that the state’s current maps discriminate against Black voters or dilute their voting power. 

“I continue to vote, but I do not feel as though that my voice is being heard.” 

In January 2022, Marcus Caster, a plaintiff challenging Alabama’s congressional map, told the court that the state’s previous congressional map did not represent the Black community. In the same hearing, multiple witnesses emphasized how the disparities in employment, health care, incarceration and education between Black and white and residents are connected to representation. They discussed how enduring issues such with infrastructure, cost of child care, internet access and more are all impacted by whether or not their representative is willing to advocate on their behalf. Caster emphasized the importance of having elected officials who are responsive to these concerns:

“I think it would be more beneficial to the black community to have someone…that will be able to listen to the citizens in our community, that would visit the citizens in our community, that would go to Washington to represent us and to vote on bills that represent our community would be very beneficial to the district, our district.” 

Eventually this case made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which sided with Black voters and affirmed that Alabama should have a congressional map with two Black-opportunity districts. 

Despite this, Republicans continued to fight for an unfair map. Last year, after a yearslong fight for a fair congressional map for Black voters, the ugly vestiges of the Jim Crow South reared their head when Republican legislators in Alabama blatantly denied a federal court order that required them to adopt a new congressional map with two Black-opportunity districts as opposed to one. Although voters had won a fair map in court and legislators were told to adopt a map that included two Black-opportunity districts, Republican legislators defied the court and enacted a new plan with just one. 

The court saw Republicans’ cynical scheme and eventually adopted a map with two Black-opportunity districts, but Black voters had to fight tooth and nail just to ensure their voices were not silenced due to how districts were drawn. 

The movement of over 30,000 Black voters created a stark racial gerrymander in South Carolina.

In South Carolina, the fight for a fair map has also not been an easy one and now the fate of the state’s congressional map rests with the ultra-conservative U.S. Supreme Court. The map was previously struck down for being an unconstitutional racial gerrymander that moved over 30,000 people (62% of the Black voters) in Charleston County from the state’s 1st Congressional District to the 6th. Brenda Murphy, president of the South Carolina State Conference of the NAACP, and a plaintiff in the case highlighted the stakes of the Court’s impending decision: 

Redistricting lines ultimately determine the representation and allocation of resources at the state-level for at least 10 years. But these lines are more than just boundaries — they largely decide the fate of our communities. And for too long, Black communities in South Carolina have suffered grave consequences during this process.

When Republicans had the map drawing pen after the release of 2020 census data, they used that power to draw districts that discriminated against Black voters across the South. Now voters are fighting back for the representation that the law requires. When districts are drawn to protect powerful Republicans, representatives are not responsive to their constituents because they know voters cannot vote them out of power. 

Without a responsive government, “you’re just yelling out and no one’s listening,” Joshua from Baton Rouge told me. She’s asking for her representatives to do the bare minimum and respond to constituents like her. 

“That is what we’re asking for in this moment,” Joshua put it simply. 

Democracy works when voters have advocates that actually represent their communities, not just those who are protected by gerrymandered maps and voters suppression tactics. The fight for fair maps is crucial in ensuring that Black voters’ voices are heard.