ATLANTA — Georgia’s new House and Senate district maps for the next 10 years are on their way to final approval following party debates and public opposition to the Republican-led proposals.
The Statehouse’s proposed 180 districts and state Senate’s proposal for its 56 districts now await a signature from Gov. Brian Kemp.
State Sen. John Kennedy, R-Macon, said during the House Legislative and Congressional Reapportionment Committee meeting Nov. 10 that the map reduces the county plots from 39 to 30. The map, he said, has 14 majority-minority and six minority-opportunity districts.
“As y'all know, we probably know we currently have 34 Republican senators. It's a 34/22 split,” said Kennedy, chair of the Senate redistricting and reapportionment committee. “This map proposes basically to take us to 33 Republican Senate districts, and that's a recognition of the trends and changes that we're all seeing in politics but also making sure that we're in compliance and acting in good faith with the numbers that we've seen.”
Jana Grant, vice chair of Fair Districts Georgia — which partnered with Princeton Gerrymandering Project to generate more than 1 million potentially “fair maps,” said the groups graded the Senate map as an “F.”
The Senate map falls outside of the groups’ benchmark that allows for 28 to 32 Republican districts and 24 to 28 Democratic districts on minority representation.
“According to our analysis, the current state Senate map provides minorities 34 districts in which to elect candidates of their choice, 20 districts in which minorities are the majority and 14 minority influence districts,” Grant said. “The Senate map you're considering tonight maintains the 20 minority majority districts, but has one less minority influence district on competitiveness.”
House committee chair Bonnie Rich said the House's proposed map has four sets of incumbent pairings: one pair of Democrat incumbents, two pairs of Republican incumbents and one Democrat-Republican pairing.
Metro areas have seen a majority of the focus of district changes as metro areas have had more than half of the state’s growth in the last 10 years — particularly in minority populations.
The Democrat incumbent pairing in the House proposal comes from Districts 106 and 102.
“Why was it necessary to pair those two. I mean Gwinnett County is one of the fastest growing counties in the state and it should be large enough to add another district in the county,” said Senate Minority Leader Gloria Butler, a member of the Senate redistricting committee.
Rich responded that another district (109) had been added to Gwinnett in the proposal.
“If we just drew maps in Gwinnett County, then that may not have been a necessary pairing. But in trying to apply the guidelines, including respecting jurisdictional boundaries, the pairing was inevitable and I think it's pretty good that we ended up with only one Democrat and parent pairing," Rich said. "I mean, as you see, we have more Republicans paired than we do Democrat so it certainly was not something that we tried to do or we actually tried not to; we tried to not pair incumbents wherever possible.”
McDonough Mayor Patti Garrett said she did not support her city being represented by four representatives under the House redistricting proposal. District 109, which represents McDonough, is currently held by a Democrat.
“We're a city of 4.7 square miles and 25,000 people,” Garrett said. “When I first saw the redistricting maps, I thought we'd gone to three which we were supporting having one you know. It just makes sense for good governance for elections and for communities of interest to ... have fewer state representatives and certainly the population numbers don't really support that many members."
Rich said the House map — which received a "B" grade from the two nonpartisan redistricting groups — has 49 majority Black voting age population districts, which was an increase of only one district over the current House districts.
"In addition to the 49 of those voting rights districts, as we call them, we also drew 27, minority opportunity districts," Rich said.
The current makeup of the Georgia House is 103 Republicans and 77 Democrats. The House map proposal was approved in the Senate 32-21, along Party lines.
The House map proposal was approved in the Senate 32-21 on Nov. 12 along party lines. The Senate map approved in the House Nov. 15 in a 96-70 vote.
The maps were poised to pass, as Republicans currently make up the majority on the committee during a time when more Georgia voters are voting Democrat; Kennedy also indicated there's an unwritten agreement among the chambers to not change the other chamber's proposal.
"They don't change and involve themselves in the process of deciding what senate districts will look like. They honor that process and pass our map," Kennedy said Friday before the Senate vote on the House map. "We traditionally have done the same thing and I would ask this body to honor their work in presenting their map to us for our passage.
"However, we do have our own independent obligations and I think those are minimally to make sure that what they have sent us in this bill is constitutional, that it's legal, and that it's been and is involved in a fair process," Kennedy continued. "And I will tell you that all three of those points are — absolutely yes. On the constitutional side. Our first responsibility, of course, is to balance the population under the U.S. Constitution and they have done that just as we did on our side."
The two chambers will now have to agree on Georgia's new congressional districts.
The state's two U.S. senators were both elected Democrats in 2020, an election year that flipped Georgia, a historically Republican state, to a Democratic state. Currently, Georgia's U.S. representatives are nearly evenly split among parties, with six of the 14 seats held by Democrats.
"We are a 50/50 state. We are a battleground state," said Rep. Bee Nguyen in speaking against the Senate map Nov. 15. "We are a swing state. This map tells us a different story. This map creates a 60/40 split with the advantage given to the Republican Party for the next 10 years."
Maps become effective upon Gov. Kemp's signature.