Alabama Democratic Party chair wants face-to-face meeting with DNC officials

Request comes as national party plans investigation of complaints against party

By: - July 13, 2023 11:01 am
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 chair of the Alabama Democratic Party wants to meet with national party leaders face to face to address complaints about the adoption of new bylaws that abolished or demoted some diversity caucuses in the party.

In a letter dated Tuesday and sent to Minion Moore and James Roosevelt, co-chairs of the Rules and Bylaws Committee (RBC) of the Democratic National Committee, Alabama Democratic Party Chair Randy Kelley requested a meeting with the RBC in St. Louis in October.

“It is our desire to build a strong and effective Democratic Party in Alabama,” Kelley wrote. “We believe we are on our way. However, we cannot build a strong Democratic Party when we are spending year in and year out responding to frivolous complaints made by some of our members who lost in the last election. We desire to set the record straight.”


In a separate letter sent Monday, Kelley asked that plans for selecting delegates to the national convention be placed on hold until the approval of a new congressional map that the Alabama Legislature must submit to a federal court by July 21.

“Please accept this letter as an official request that the Alabama Delegate Selection Plans for 2023 be held in abeyance until the federal court rules on the new congressional reapportion plan,” Kelley wrote in the letter dated July 10, and obtained by the Alabama Reflector. “The reason for the request is because the United States Supreme Court had directed the Alabama Legislature to draw two (2) majority black congressional districts, or the court will redraw them.”

The requests come as Kelley faces challenges from Democrats who allege the May 6 meeting stripped key constituencies of voting power and were conducted against the rules of procedure.

“The Alabama Democratic Party can’t afford to wait that long,” said Tabitha Isner, the vice chair of the Alabama Democratic Party in an interview Wednesday. “We need this matter to be resolved as soon as possible, so that we can get down to the work of supporting candidates and organizing voters.”

Isner said Kelley has until July 14 to send his response to the challenges based on the rules.

This request for the October meeting could give Kelley and his supporters additional time to respond to the challenges.

But Kelley said in a Wednesday interview that was not his purpose.

“Basically, it has to do with the delegate selection plan,” Kelley said of the October meeting. “The Supreme Court decision is going to allow us a new congressional district, a potentially Black congressional seat, so the calculation of the numbers is going to be changed based on the congressional districts.”

“You see the bylaws are not monolithic,” Kelley said. “You have a state that has 8 pages of bylaws and some caucuses that don’t have any at all. We are not really concerned about that at all. Some of that is from dissatisfied, or disgruntled, groups that lost the election and lost control of the party.”

Kelley said he responded by sending a letter soon after he received word of the challenges.

“The numbers are based on the Democratic electorate,” he said. That is the number that we are going by.”

New districts

The Alabama Legislature will meet next week to address the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Allen v. Milligan last month. In a 5-4 ruling, the court upheld a lower court decision that the congressional maps adopted by the Alabama Legislature in 2021 violated Section 2 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, prohibiting voting practices that discriminate based on race, color or membership in certain language groups.

A lower court mandated a remedy, ordering the Legislature to carve out a second district that has a significant number of Black voters.

The Legislature must approve new maps by July 21. If the state misses the deadline or submits maps the court deems unacceptable, the three-judge panel could hire a third party, known as a special master, to draw the maps.

Kelley wrote that the new districts would have different demographics and new boundary lines, which he said required a delay in ratifying the delegate adoption plan.

“We believe by waiting for a final court ruling this will ensure fairness and equity for all Democratic votes in Alabama,” he wrote.

Kelley’s critics said the state party has already started voting to decide whether to adopt the rules for selecting delegates to the national convention. Members began receiving their ballots to vote on the rules at the end of June. The ballots were then to be sent back and counted by July 7.

Ralph Young, a member of the Alabama Democratic Party, sent a letter dated July 1 to the Democratic National Committee asking rules committee co-chairs to place a restraining order on the vote concerning the delegate plan.

“This measure is intended to be a pause, allowing us time to validate the eligible voting members and the bylaws they may have endorsed,” Young said in his letter.

Young’s letter to the RBC cited a second challenge filed by April Hodges, another party member, alleging the state party purged at-large members because of their race, ethnicity and other identifying factors.

After sending his correspondence to the RBC co-chairs, Young wrote two letters addressed to Kelley. The first was dated July 6, asking to be present during the canvassing that was supposed to take place at the July 7 gathering before Kelley requested the delay.

Having not received a response, Young then wrote a second letter the following day that was more harshly phrased.

“You are on notice of my intent to challenge the Plan, due to the perceived attempts to disenfranchise diversity caucus members,” Young wrote. “I urge you to ensure that all members have the right to vote, and furthermore, that their votes are counted.”

The vote to approve the delegate plan surprised some members of the state party because several individuals, including those who challenged the results of the bylaws at the May meeting, did not receive ballots to vote on the delegate selection plan.

“After everything that has happened, I don’t know how to explain that,” said Virginia Applebaum, former chair of the Native American caucus, who didn’t receive a ballot for the delegate plan. “It is both shocking and disheartening, but it seems like this is normal business. This is how it is going to be.”

At that May meeting the state party adopted new bylaws that effectively eliminated caucuses for youth, LGBTQ+ and people with disabilities that were established back in 2019. It also rolled back some of the power of other caucuses.

“I really struggled in the weeks after the meeting just because of how demoralizing it was,” Applebaum said. “As a native American woman, to be treated in such a manner by the party.”

Some members were upset they were not able to vote because they didn’t pay a $50 fee, which they characterized as a poll tax. Kelley has disputed that.

The May 6 meeting led to a complaint from Isner and 43 other members to the Democratic National Committee responsible for setting the bylaws, claiming those bylaws should be voided.

The DNC last month announced an investigation of the complaint. The national party could remove the Alabama Democratic Party’s delegates from the 2024 presidential convention if it finds that the party is not compliant with its bylaws.

“I would like us to redo a meeting under the old bylaws,” Isner said. “Everything that happened at the May meeting should be void and null because it was not done according to Robert’s rules. It was not done within the bylaws that were in effect at that time.”


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Ralph Chapoco
Ralph Chapoco

Ralph Chapoco covers state politics as a senior reporter for States Newsroom. His main responsibility is the criminal justice system in Alabama.