State Sen. Elena Parent, Rep. Matthew Wilson discuss redistricting process and mapsPhoto provided by state Sen. Elena Parent.
Atlanta, GA — Republican lawmakers in the Georgia General Assembly released a joint redistricting map on Nov. 17. State Sen. Elena Parent (D – Senate District 42) hosted a virtual town hall Wednesday evening with Rep. Matthew Wilson (D – Brookhaven) to discuss the special session and share their thoughts on the maps.
According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the Georgia General Assembly on Monday approved new legislative maps and those maps lock-in Republican control of the state Capitol while giving Democrats opportunities to pick up some seats. To read the full story, click here.
To view the maps, click here.
“In many ways, this session has unfolded not particularly out of line from what I was expecting,” Parent said. “That doesn’t mean any of it’s good or that the maps aren’t very gerrymandered and the process is not transparent and not fair from a community input, partisan balance, fair representation of growing communities perspective.”
Here is the video of the virtual town hall:
She said the legislature has seen gerrymandered maps and a rushed process to approve the maps of the state House and Senate, and the Congressional districts.
The district lines for municipal races will be considered during the regular legislative session that starts in January.
The legislature still has to approve the Congressional districts. The state Senate released their version of the Congressional maps early in the process, while the House released their map this week.
The House maps were heard in committee on Wednesday and are expected to potentially be voted out of committee today, so the House can have a floor debate on the congressional map on Friday. The House will come back early next week to vote on the maps and adjourn the special session.
What is redistricting?
Every 10 years, the Georgia General Assembly redraws the lines of the state’s legislative and congressional districts. This process helps determine who controls the state government and its policies for at least the next decade, according to the Georgia Recorder.
The biggest factor affecting the map drawing process is the state’s changing demographics. Since 2010, Georgia’s population has increased by almost 1 million people to more than 10.7 million in 2020.
Over the summer, Parent hosted a Redistricting 201 virtual event with gubernatorial candidate and lawyer Jason Carter; lawyer and redistricting expert Emmet Bondurant; Marina Jenkins from the National Redistricting Foundation; and Michael Li from the Brennan Center.
During the event, Carter said that redistricting happens because the population changes or at least that should be the reason for the process.
“In Georgia, for example, it’s required that we redistrict after each decennial census. Why our state constitution has also required, as the Supreme Court held starting in the 1960s, to redistrict that the decennial census is so that the districts have equal population,” Carter said. “So sometimes we lose track of the fact that the reason we redistrict is to make these districts relatively or roughly equal in population.”
The one person, one vote principle comes from this and refers to the rule that one person’s voting power ought to be roughly equivalent to another person’s within the same state, according to the Cornell Law School.
Breakdown of the maps
The legislative maps still give Republicans control of the General Assembly, although it also gives up a few seats to Democrats. The Congressional map, however, would drastically change Atlanta’s northern suburbs to create another likely Republican seat, according to Georgia Public Broadcasting.
“What we’re dealing with on this map is that the Republicans really did do a very effective gerrymander 10 years ago,” Parent said. “Ten years ago was the first time that the Republicans were in charge to draw the map. At that time, their power in the state had been growing and cresting in some ways.”
In some ways, it was easy for Republican lawmakers to try to draw maps with the goal of creating Republican super majorities in the General Assembly, she added. But the changing state demographics made them give up seats in the state legislature.
“Georgia has been changing incredibly rapidly,” Parent said. “We added one million people in the last decade. All of the growth came within communities of color. [There was] very rapid growth in the Asian American population, in the Latino population and also in the African American population. We found that Georgia actually was almost a majority-minority state as of last April.”
There are 180 state House districts, and the current composition of the body is 103 Republicans and 77 Democrats. A party needs 91 legislators to have a majority. The House maps however give the Republicans a majority with about 97 legislators.
“Instead, what they did was they gave up, basically, six or seven different districts and said we’re going to make these more Democratic and take the Republicans from those districts and put them into the existing Republican seats,” Wilson said.
House district 80, which Wilson represents, currently includes the cities of Brookhaven and Sandy Springs. The new map shows district 80 representing Dunwoody and Doraville. The new map has also broken Brookhaven into two districts. North Brookhaven is now in district 52 and south Brookhaven is in district 83.
“Both of these districts, I should say, were made to be more democratic,” Wilson said. “House District 80 that I currently represent is basically 59% democratic, based on the 2020 cycle. It’s now 65% democratic, with a significant increase in the voting age population for Hispanics — 31% voting age population for Hispanics.”
District 83 would become a majority-minority district with 54% voting age population being of minority communities.
“All of these districts in the metro Atlanta area, or at least in DeKalb and Fulton, were very much drawn to favor the Democrats. They tried to make all of these districts more Democratic and then take the Republicans on the edge and push them into more Republican districts along outer rim,” Wilson said.
The Senate map also reflects some concessions, but still gives Republicans a majority. Senate districts seven and 14 were drawn as concessions to the changing politics and demographics of the state. These are expected to perform as Democratic districts, Parent said.
District 7 used to be in southern Georgia but has been moved to Gwinnett County. District 14 was also in south Georgia but was moved to Cherokee County in 2010, and has now been moved to Fulton County.
“Unlike the state House, we do not renumber,” Parent said. “When you see numbers that are lower and are now up in metro Atlanta, you can see where in past redistricting, they had been dismantled from the part of the state they originated in and moved to another part of the state.”
From the beginning, the state Senate district numbers started off with District 1 in Savannah and the numbers became larger moving north.
District 48 — which covers part of Gwinnett and north Fulton County, and now southern Forsyth County — was always a reliably Republican district. However, that district is currently represented by Sen. Michelle Au (D – Senate District 48).
“She is in an area where gerrymandering can happen,” Parent said. “District 48 is on the edge of these more conservative districts, meaning that gerrymandering in that area is a little bit easier to do than if you’re surrounded by all Democrats.”
The Congressional map, which determines who represents the state in the U.S. House of Representatives, has altered some of Atlanta’s northern suburbs and has given Georgia Republicans a nine to five majority for the states 14 House seats.
On a party-line vote, a Georgia Senate panel approved the Congressional map and it is expected to be debated on the Senate floor on Friday, according to the AJC.
Wilson said that due to population shifts, there was only so much Republicans could do. The Voting Rights Act also provides some protection to minority Congressional districts.
“Given that, basically, what we went into this process knowing is that they’re going to try to take back the 6th District, which was won by Lucy McBath, and do something with the 7th Congressional District, and potentially something with Sanford Bishop’s district down in south Georgia,” Wilson said.
District 6 was drawn to take it away from Democrats and give it to Republicans. District 6, which is represented by Lucy McBath, currently stretches into DeKalb, Fulton and Cobb Counties.
Under the most recent proposed map, District 6 is no longer in DeKalb County. It would cover parts of Fulton, Gwinnett, Cobb and Cherokee Counties. It would also cover Forsyth and Dawson Counties.
“This is pure partisan politics, right. This is a pure partisan power grab,” Wilson said. “It is currently a plus 12 Biden district. The new map…has the 6th District as plus 15 Trump district. They have basically inverted the partisan makeup of the 6th District in order to flip it from blue to red.”
Public comment has begun on the maps. Parent and Wilson encouraged constituents to attend the hearings and submit comments through the online portal.
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