The General Assembly’s special redistricting session kicked off Wednesday with legislative Democrats and redistricting watchdog groups assailing Republican-backed proposed maps for both the state House and Senate as unfair to Black voters.
Both maps comply with a federal court ruling last month that declared the maps the legislature’s GOP majorities drew two years ago violated the Voting Rights Act.
The proposed state Senate map would add two Black-majority districts, while the House map would add five, as U.S. District Judge Steve Jones ordered in a lawsuit filed by civil rights and voting rights groups.
But Democrats argued both maps would make changes well beyond the House and Senate districts the court order identified as being in violation of the voting rights law.
Senate Democrats released an alternative map this week that would alter only the boundaries of the 10 districts Jones targeted in his ruling, said Senate Minority Leader Gloria Butler, D-Stone Mountain. The Democrats’ map would bring almost 150,000 Black residents now living in white-majority Senate districts into Black-majority districts, she said.
“Democrats did what the court ordered within the confines of the court order,” Butler said. “Unfortunately, the (Republican) proposal fails to do so.”
On the other hand, the Republican-backed Senate map extensively redrew 15 districts, including districts that are not in areas Jones identified in his ruling, added Sen. Elena Parent, D-Atlanta. Parent’s Senate district is one of two white-majority districts served by Democratic senators the new GOP map would eliminate.
“Many Georgians are shifted around unnecessarily,” she said. “It’s a shell game that’s not really giving Black voters more opportunity,”
Democrats and members of redistricting watchdog groups had similar complaints about the House map. Ken Lawler, chairman of Fair Districts GA, a nonpartisan organization that encourages fairness and transparency in redistricting, said the Republican House map strays far beyond creating five Black-majority districts to redrawing districts in areas not targeted in the court ruling purely for partisan gain.
“Partisan gerrymandering may be legal in this country, but it’s absolutely wrong,” Lawler said.
Others objected to the House map pairing four pairs of incumbents against each other, all in parts of the state not identified by Jones as violating the Voting Rights Act.
The map pits three sets of Democrats: Reps. Teri Anulewicz and Doug Stoner in Cobb County, Reps. Becky Evans and Saira Draper in DeKalb County, and Reps. Gregg Kennard and Sam Park in Gwinnett County. In the one Republican pairing, Reps. Beth Camp and David Knight would face off against each other in a district that includes all of Pike County and parts of Spalding and Lamar counties.
“Comply with the court order without doing unnecessary changes for partisan gain,” Janet Grant, Fair District GA’s vice chair, urged members of the House Reapportionment and Redistricting Committee Wednesday.
The special session will continue through this week and for part or all of next week. Jones’ ruling gave the General Assembly until Dec. 8 to redraw both legislative maps as well as Georgia’s congressional map.
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