ATLANTA — Amid the Atlanta Braves’ World Series Championship parade Friday and only having released the proposed Georgia state Senate redistricting map less than three days before, the Senate redistricting committee voted 9-4 to approve the map despite the public's requests for more time to review it.
State Senate Committee Chair John Kennedy, R-Macon, argued there had been ample time for public input as nearly a dozen hearings had been held this year. In the days between the release of the map Tuesday and the vote Friday, only two public hearings were held.
Gloria Butler, Senate Democratic caucus chair and redistricting committee member, motioned to table a vote on the map, but it failed 10-4.
“The governor called us into special session Nov. 3. We’re here to do the people’s business and we can’t postpone it," Kennedy said Thursday. “I’m going to continue to move forward on the schedule. Let's not forget the Senate map is just one of three maps we have to approve. We have to approve a House map and perhaps substantial work to do on the congressional maps."
Kennedy and Bill Cowsert, R-Athens, committee vice-chair, assured the public that redistricting guidelines were followed. Some of those guidelines, Cowsert said, include districts being equal in population with less than 1% deviation, non-racially discriminatory per the Voting Rights Act, contiguous districts, limiting county splits, protecting communities of interest and avoiding the pairing of incumbents.
"These new maps are respectful of incumbents returning but also include 14 majority Black districts and 20 non-white majority districts," Kennedy said.
Butler, however, pointed out areas of the proposed map where there appeared to be minority discrimination. She specifically mentioned Chatham, Bibb, Douglas, Henry and Athens-Clark counties.
“Where there was minority population, it seems that they were split and that the minority population was divided between those three (districts),” she said.
Kennedy argued that the splits were necessary because of population growth in those areas.
“These are large population areas, that’s where you have to split,” Kennedy said. “That’s where there's maintenance of all the obligations we have, not just to that one area but districts around it require that.”
Sentiments from the public echoed those of Butler’s, many of them expressing dissatisfaction with a rushed vote on the map and minority counties and cities being broken up.
David Garcia of Latino organization GALEO said the committee’s map discriminates against people of color. He referenced the proposed metro Atlanta districts for Cobb County — districts 32, 37 and 56.
The proposal "grabs some of the diverse areas but pairs them with white Bartow and Cherokee County populations to dilute minority voting strength,” Garcia said.
Garcia also referenced proposed Senate Districts 45 and 46 in Gwinnett County, with parts of Suwanee and Dacula paired with “white” counties to the west in what he felt was an effort to dilute minority vote.
Duro Haynes, a Henry County resident, said the same of his area.
“In what world does it make sense — for example, District 17 — which encompasses the city of McDonough, to stretch up to Morgan County and leave a fellow city in Henry County out. The only way that this makes rational sense to me is that this is a power grab,” Haynes said.
Fair Districts GA and Princeton Gerrymandering Project — both independent, non-partisan groups — weighed in on the map, analyzing continuity, compactness, county lines, and partisan and racial fairness.
The groups rated the map an “F.”
“The Senate proposes additional GOP districts and fewer Democratic districts, both outliers when compared to the expected benchmarks,” the groups stated in a press release. “Both groups have 19 extreme districts outside the expected range. Finally, the Senate committee-drawn map further splits cities from even the existing splits, diminishing communities of interest.”
The group rated the Democratic Caucus-drawn proposed Senate map an “A” based on the established benchmarks. Butler presented that map before the vote Friday; however, it was poised to fail among the committee of 10 Republicans and five Democrats.
The Senate chamber currently consists of 34 Republicans and 22 Democrats. According to groups analyzing the map, to have a map representative of Georgia's shift in demographics, maps should show 32 or fewer Republican districts and 24 or more Democratic districts. The map approved by the committee, however, favors Republicans by creating 33 Republican-leaning districts and 23 Democratic-leaning districts.
"This state is equally divided politically," Butler said. "A map that provides either party a significant party advantage discriminates and reduces the voting power of Georgians with different political viewpoints."
The Georgia House Legislative and Congressional Reapportionment Committee began meeting Friday afternoon to discuss proposed House and congressional district maps.
All maps passed out of committees must be approved by both the House and Senate.
Redistricting happens every 10 years upon the release of U.S. Census data to reflect population and demographic changes. Georgia's population grew by more than 1 million, or 10%, since the last redistricting cycle in 2011, with the white population decreasing slightly and the minority populations increasing substantially, particularly in metro areas of the state.
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