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Candidates for a new congressional seat in Alabama worry about Black voter turnout

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Last year, the Supreme Court ruled that the state of Alabama had violated a key portion of the 1965 Voting Rights Act by failing to have a second majority Black congressional district. After a number of court cases, Alabama now has a newly drawn district. But candidates for the new congressional seat are worried about Black voter turnout in the primaries on Super Tuesday. Troy Public Radio's Kyle Gassiott heard from the candidates and voters at the annual ceremony held yesterday in Selma, Ala., commemorating a famous civil rights march.

KYLE GASSIOTT, BYLINE: The passage of the Voting Rights Act is a direct result of a protest now known as Bloody Sunday. As Vice President Kamala Harris recounted in her speech, on that day 59 years ago, state troopers beat Black protestors marching for the right to vote.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KAMALA HARRIS: They marched peacefully. They knew violence against them was inevitable. They knew they would be surrounded by troopers with nightsticks.

GASSIOTT: In 1982, Congress would amend the Voting Rights Act to require representation proportional to the minority population of a state. Alabama has a Black population which is 27% and previously had only one Black majority voting district.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Good evening, and welcome to the Intergenerational Hip Hop Political Summit, Alabama's second congressional district candidate forum.

GASSIOTT: There are 18 candidates on Tuesday's ballot, 11 Democrats - a number of them are Black - and seven Republicans. Advocates of the new district want to mobilize younger Black voters, so over the weekend in Selma, they held a forum with four of the African American candidates. Each participant voiced the same concern, including State Representative Jeremy Gray.

JEREMY GRAY: So many people talking about this is a Black seat, this is an opportunity seat. And if we don't actually go out and vote, shame on us, right?

GASSIOTT: The city of Selma is not in the new congressional district, but the annual bridge crossing reenactment draws voters from all over the state, including Lisa B. Williams (ph), an employment coach and advocate. Williams works and lives in the new district. For her job, she travels to rural areas that she says desperately need support.

LISA B WILLIAMS: I'm looking for, you have to have a heart for the people in these rural counties. You have to consider them. You must consider them. They're equally important.

GASSIOTT: So far, a candidate hasn't adequately addressed her concerns.

WILLIAMS: I'm looking for authenticity, not just a rhetoric, not just politicking, right?

GASSIOTT: In order to get her vote in November, Williams says a candidate will need to show her they're ready to roll up their sleeves and work for this new district.

For NPR News, I'm Kyle Gassiott in Selma, Ala.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Kyle Gassiott

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