George on Georgia – The Redistricting DilemmaGeorge Chidi. Photo by Dean Hesse
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Let’s start with this: gerrymandering is legal. It shouldn’t be, but it is.
It is perfectly legal for the legislature to draw new district maps that look like a M.C. Escher print had sex in a Klein bottle with a Salvador Dali painting. The only rule worth discussing is the remaining shred of the Civil Rights Act that prevents deliberately packing Black people into a single district or cracking them into diluted voting divisions.
Yes, yes: we should use an independent voting commission and a party-neutral algorithm to draw maps. The political space for that idea is as wide as the political middle is today, which is to say it is all but nonexistent. Everyone plays for keeps today.
So, let’s have a real conversation about what to expect. Someone is going to get screwed.
I gently remind you all that the Republican-led legislature drew maps in 2010 that passed the Department of Justice review for racial discrimination on the first try. The one political goal they accomplished was the defenestration of a bunch of white Democrats, which Black Democrats were happy enough to accept as long as their own seats remained safe.
DeKalb has long, skinny districts striping the county because DeKalb is racially striated. South DeKalb is 95 percent Black. North DeKalb is racially mixed. To get districts with 60-70 percent Black demography – a standard for avoiding accusations of packing or cracking – you end up having to connect Druid Hills to south Decatur.
The gentrification of places like East Lake may throw a wrench into those maps. So does Stonecrest: I expect some effort may be made to reduce the number of legislators with precincts in the district, to forestall weird legislative shenanigans in the future – looking at you, Vernon Jones.
Still, nothing quite so sordid as a deal to protect Black elected officials is on the table this round. Republicans would like to recapture Lucy McBath’s 6th district and Carolyn Bourdeaux’s 7th district. But they probably can’t make a play for both with redistricting. A decision has to be made to put more conservative voters in one district or the other – there simply aren’t enough votes to get both.
Perusing public comment on redistricting, it’s clear that the Forsyth County Republicans are mounting a campaign to get drawn out of the 7th congressional district, which flipped to Democrats last year. Those Forsyth County voters, however, aren’t all that conservative. Southern Forsyth is awfully purple – about a +5 Republican lean or so now, and probably dead even within five years. The 7th district has to shed a whopping 100,000 or so residents, by far the most of any district in the state. Forsyth is worth 250,000 residents, about half of whom are in the 7th district. By planting them in Austin Scott’s 9th district in north Georgia, it would be enough to even out the 7th district.
That alone probably doesn’t change the 7th district enough to matter. Trying to drag Walton and Barrow County Republicans into Gwinnett would require legislators to trade for more Athens voters in Jody Hice’s 10th district, while pushing some liberal Gwinnett voters into McBath’s district. It might be enough to swing the 7th back to Republican hands tomorrow, sacrificing the 6th while at the long-term risk of losing the 7th again in a few years, along with the 10th if Athens puts up a solid candidate.
For what it’s worth, I think it’s time to cut the crap and put the entire city of Atlanta in one district. Right now, four different congresspeople have a piece for no good reason even measured by Republican interests.
Where Republicans do have an interest: giving a Republican a puncher’s chance at one district in DeKalb. Right now, the ridiculous voting reform law that allows a state takeover of a local elections board requires at least one county commissioner or state legislator to call for action. DeKalb has not one Republican serving in that capacity. Republicans want to find a way to elect one.
I’ll bet $100 bucks they can’t do it.
Are there 10,000 reliable Republican voters left in DeKalb County, in any place you can draw a contiguous, compact district, without screwing up voting rights for nonwhite voters?
The more interesting question for me is whether the legislature can find a way to carve a district giving Latino or Asian voters a square shot at state house representation. A Buford Highway corridor district makes too much political sense to happen today.
– George Chidi is a political columnist, public policy advocate and a veteran. He also writes for The Intercept.
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