In Georgia, the task of redrawing congressional districts has been subject to the pushes and pulls of politics and racial demographics. Occurring every ten years following the U.S. Census, redistricting plays a key role in the state’s political power dynamics.
19th Century: Slaveholding Interests
In its early statehood years, Georgia’s congressional districts were configured to protect slaveholding regions. The Three-Fifths Compromise allowed for each slave to count as three-fifths of a person for the purpose of representation, giving districts with large slave populations disproportionate political sway.
Jim Crow Era: Racial Gerrymandering
During the Jim Crow era, Georgia practiced racial gerrymandering. This involved drawing districts in such a way that the political influence of newly-enfranchised Black voters was minimized. The result was a congressional delegation that remained overwhelmingly white and Democratic.
Civil Rights Era: The Voting Rights Act
The 1965 Voting Rights Act drastically affected redistricting in Georgia. Section 5 of the Act mandated federal approval for new voting maps in states with histories of racial discrimination. This oversight led to increased political representation for Georgia’s Black population, including the elections of Andrew Young and John Lewis to Congress.
Late 20th Century: Rise of the Republican Party
The early 2000s marked a significant shift in Georgia’s political landscape as Republicans gained control of the state legislature for the first time in more than a century. This allowed them to redraw congressional districts that favored their party, leading Democrats to mount legal challenges on grounds of partisan gerrymandering.
21st Century: Legal Challenges and Public Debate
Redistricting in Georgia continues to be a topic of legal battles and public discussion. A 2017 lawsuit challenged the redrawing of two state House districts, alleging they were designed to reduce the influence of Black voters. Additionally, a 2019 federal court decision argued that Georgia’s 2011 congressional map was unfairly skewed, although this ruling was later appealed.
Currently, Georgia’s 2021 maps are working their way through the court system in a high profile case that could shift the balance of power not just in Georgia, but nationwide.