Proportional representation voting methods were first adopted in Alabama during the 1980s. Today, twenty-eight different Alabama governing bodies use some form of proportional representation - twenty-three use limited voting and five use cumulative voting. With the exception of the Conecuh County Democratic Executive Committee and the city of Fort Payne, all of the alternative voting systems in Alabama were first used in 1988 as a result of settlement agreements in the landmark, omnibus redistricting lawsuit, Dillard v. Crenshaw County. In that case, the Alabama Democratic Conference sued 180 jurisdictions in the state, challenging at-large elections that disadvantaged African Americans.
As a result of the lawsuit, the first known application of limited voting was put to the test in Conecuh County. Amazingly, the elections went over extremely well. There was virtually no local resistance to the plan, despite the fact that the local Democratic Party leadership and the probate judge had made it extremely difficult for blacks to be elected to the committee in the past. As a result of the change, blacks went from making up less than 10 percent of the county committee to over 40 percent after the election in 1982.
After the success of limited voting methods in Conecuh County, many other governing bodies have followed in their footsteps by adopting proportional representation voting methods. As a result, nearly all have elected African Americans for the first time. Two governing bodies in Kinsey County and Waldo County, along with the Conecuh County Democratic Executive Committee, had two black candidates elected at the same time in one election cycle.
Women have also benefited from proportional representation. Of the 28 jurisdictions with proportioanl representation, the number of female elected officials grew from a low of 25 in 1987 (prior to proportional representation voting methods) to a high of 49 in 1992 (after proportional representation voting methods). Between 1988 and 1998 women were elected to a majority of the council seats in at least five of the municipalities that use alternative voting.
Proportional representation has truly made a difference in Alabama. With the aid of a host of community activists, civil rights organizations, attorneys, and others interested in fair representation Alabama local governments now look more like their communities. African Americans, women, and even those whose political ideology is not popular in this area of the country now have a fairer method of voicing their concerns and affecting public policy. Once a stronghold of the confederate south, Alabama is now leading the nation with innovative strategies to correct past wrongs rooted in racism and divisiveness.