DNC warns Alabama Democratic Party over bylaw changes

By: - May 17, 2023 7:14 pm
Chair and executive members of committee listen to arguments

Randy Kelley, chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party, presides over the State Democratic Executive Committee, in which they passed a new bylaw eliminating the youth, LGBTQ+ and disabled caucus. (Alander Rocha/Alabama Reflector)

The Democratic National Committee (DNC) said bylaws approved by the Alabama Democratic Party (ADP) on May 5 could violate the party’s rules and may have been adopted undemocratically, according to a letter obtained by the Reflector on Wednesday.

The letter from the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee, addressed to Randy Kelley, chair of the ADP, said the new bylaws appeared to create “the unequal treatment of minority groups.” The letter also referred to allegations that voting at the meeting was not conducted properly, and that members of the State Democratic Executive Committee (SDEC) were charged a previously unannounced fee to attend.

“As you know, numerous members of the SDEC and the DNC from Alabama are alleging serious irregularities in the meeting’s conduct that call into question the validity of the actions taken at the meeting,” wrote James Roosevelt Jr. and Minyon Moore, co-chairs of the DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee.


At the May 6 meeting of the SDEC, leaders pushed through bylaw changes that abolished caucuses for Hispanic, LGBTQ+ and disabled members of the committee, and reduced the power of other minority caucuses created in 2019.

Supporters of the changes, including Kelley and Joe Reed, the vice chair of minority affairs for the party, said the changes would better reflect the presence of Black voters in the state Democratic electorate. But members of the affected caucuses said they were being erased.

When there is a narrative being pushed that the membership of the party is either black or white, everyone else is simply erased.

– Virginia Applebaum, chair of the Native American caucus

Kelley could not be reached for a comment Wednesday. In a statement released after the May 6 meeting, Kelley said that “no one lost representation” in the bylaw changes and that “losers lost.” Reed Wednesday deferred questions to Kelley.

Antwon Womack, chair of the ADP’s LGBTQ+ caucus, said in an interview Wednesday that he hopes that Kelley will take “this letter as a way of saving the heartbeat of our party.” He said that he sees this as an opportunity to “get this right” and that he has indicated to Kelley that he wants to work with him, but that he also wants to be sure the party is diverse.

“Knowing that the DNC has heard myself and others who have reached out in concern of not being treated fairly and voices being silenced through some very divisive bylaws – this is a good sign,” Womack said.

The changes to the bylaws reflected a brief victory for Reed, who clashed with the DNC and then-U.S. Sen. Doug Jones in 2019 over changes to party governance ordered by the national party. Jones’ faction prevailed. But Reed contested the validity of the election, and supported Kelley’s election last August.

The letter suggests that the changes, if not addressed, could cost Alabama its representation in the primary presidential elections. If a challenge is filed with the DNC regarding these issues, the letter states “we expect this precedent to be followed.”

“The DNC has maintained that the credentials of DNC members elected by state parties with this noncompliant structure may be revoked,” the letter said. “If a challenge is filed with the DNC concerning actions taken pursuant to these bylaws, such as approval of your state’s delegate selection plan, we expect this precedent to be followed.”

man defends proposed bylaws at microphone
Joe Reed, chair of the minority caucus, defended the changes to the bylaws, saying the 2019 bylaws took power away from Black Democrats. (Alabama Reflector)

The bylaws changes eliminated the three caucuses because they don’t represent 15% of the executive council, according to the supporters of the changes.

The May 6 meeting was contentious. Several members of the SDEC alleged that they were asked to pay a previously unannounced $50 fee to enter the meeting. Several members have also challenged the voting procedures followed at the meeting.

Virginia Applebaum, chair of the Native American caucus, one of the affected caucuses, said Wednesday that she is concerned about the vote accuracy and as well as whether the body “actually had a quorum when so many of our members were blocked and denied their credentials.”

“I, personally, as did many others, requested a roll call that was never taken,” she said.

She also said that she was troubled that actions were taken to seemingly divide the membership into a “black” and “white” binary and turn one side against the other.

“When there is a narrative being pushed that the membership of the party is either black or white, everyone else is simply erased,” Applebaum said.

The only way that the party will be able to move forward and heal from this will be to find a way that supports and welcomes everyone, Womack said, “even if they feel they aren’t welcome or they feel they are not a part of it.”

“We’re going to have to recognize that, at the end of the day, we are all Democrats. We may have different views or different perspectives, but at the end of the day, we are all Democrats, and our ultimate goal is to unseat Republicans,” Womack said.


DRAFT Alabama Letter 5.17

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Alander Rocha
Alander Rocha

Alander Rocha is a journalist based in Montgomery, and he reports on government, policy and healthcare. He previously worked for KFF Health News and the Red & Black, Georgia's student newspaper. He is a Tulane and Georgia alumnus with a two-year stint in the U.S. Peace Corps.