George on Georgia – Bacon Strip PoliticsGeorge Chidi. Photo by Dean Hesse
Editor’s note: George Chidi now publishes a Substack newsletter called “The Atlanta Objective.” If you want to support him directly, sign up for a paying subscription to his newsletter by clicking here.
As the light of the redistricting tunnel shines, I think it’s clear that the Georgia state legislature is perfectly willing to run over voters in north Fulton County, and Forsyth County, and the hinterlands of the state. And they have their eye on DeKalb as well.
Republican lawmakers like drawing district lines right through the middle of municipalities because it hampers the rise of powerful community political figures and dilutes the power of Democrats, who are far more likely to represent cities. Decatur is a fine local example of this, but you can look at Athens and Columbus as well. Chamblee, Doraville, Clarkston – all have multiple representatives.
Until now, Dunwoody has been an exception because Dunwoody has been DeKalb’s Republican red bastion on a blue battlefield. That redoubt gave way a few years ago; Dunwoody’s mayor and most of its city council are now Democrats, as is its state representative. It gave a majority of its vote to Joe Biden in 2020.
For Republican lawmakers, there’s no good reason to keep all of Dunwoody’s precincts together in one district anymore. So, two Democrat-heavy precincts get parceled off to a Sandy Springs district and Dunwoody picks up two Tucker precincts to replace them.
This is politics. This is – and I say this laughing aloud – perfectly normal. So are the ridiculous district lines south of Dunwoody in this county. And that’s because there’s little that can be done to DeKalb politically that we haven’t done to ourselves.
DeKalb County has 16 state house districts, and seven of them are long, thin bacon strips of territory stretching north to south. Most are about a mile wide and ten miles long.
Edgewood is in the same district as the industrial park at DeKalb’s southwestern corner. Druid Hills is in the same district as both East Lake Terrace and Martin Luther King Jr. High School on the southern edge of the county. But Winona Park, less than 1000 feet from East Lake is in a different district, connected to Brownsmill Park eight miles away. The Kroger in Northlake is in the same district as Nam Dae Mun on Memorial Drive and the Kroger on Wesley Chapel Road. The Publix across town in Tucker is in a different snaky district that connects the Walmart on Memorial Drive with the Kroger on Redan Road.
These districts aren’t noodle-shaped mockeries of the phrase “communities of interest” because of choices the legislature has made. They look the way they do because of choices we made, or perhaps better to say, choices that white supremacy have imposed on us.
The U.S. Supreme Court got rid of the preclearance requirements of the Voting Rights Act, but the underlying law remains true: legislatures cannot pack voters of color into districts to minimize their ability to elect representatives of their choice. Nor can they crack nonwhite districts apart to dilute their voting power. There’s a soft numerical target of about 70-80 percent nonwhite voters in a district to avoid assumptions of packing or cracking.
Keep that in mind as you look at a map of DeKalb showing residence by race.
Memorial Drive, Covington Highway in Avondale Estates, Church Street and Stone Mountain Highway are bright dividing lines between white and Black DeKalb County. We live in deeply segregated communities. North of that line, census tracts are majority-white. Below that line, census tracts are 95 percent or more nonwhite. This remains the case until you get to the immigrant-friendly communities around Buford Highway.
There’s no way to draw districts that neither crack nor pack Black people, given the stark racial division in this county, without making bacon strips.
This isn’t gerrymandering. Preserve that term for what it actually means: drawing district lines to give legislators the best shot at winning a partisan race, without regard to the interests of the community to be represented.
Please don’t mistake this for a defense of the redistricting process. A system that allows legislators to pick their constituents is inherently flawed. And this legislature seems intent on screwing voters of color. Just … not here. And not that color.
The nonwhite voters in State Sen. Michelle Au’s district have been cracked – moved into adjoining districts – while more conservative voters (read: white) in Forsyth County have been moved into her north Fulton and Gwinnett County district. The new 48th Senate district could be contested by a Republican competitively as a result. That is a racial gerrymander.
The state’s probably going to get sued over it. And it should.
– George Chidi is a political columnist, public policy advocate and a veteran. He also writes for The Intercept.
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