New Georgia House, Senate District Maps Clear Redistricting Committees

Dave Williams

Friday, December 1st, 2023

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The Georgia House and Senate redistricting committees approved new district lines for their respective legislative chambers Thursday, in keeping with a court ruling that the current district maps violate the Voting Rights Act.

On the second day of a special session of the General Assembly to take up redistricting, the committees’ Republican majorities voted in favor of the proposed maps while minority Democrats opposed the changes.

The maps comply with a decision U.S. District Judge Steve Jones handed down in October calling for the legislature to create two additional Black-majority state Senate seats and five additional Black-majority seats in the Georgia House.

But Democrats and redistricting watchdog groups complained Thursday that the Republican-drawn maps alter more districts than would have been necessary to comply with Jones’ order.

Janet Grant, co-chair of the organization Fair Districts GA, said the Republican Senate map would put 14.4% of Georgia’s population in different districts, compared to just 8.4% under an alternative Senate map Democrats presented to the redistricting committee.

“The court order can be met without broad disruption,” she said.

Sen. Elena Parent, D-Atlanta, said the Democratic alternative map would move roughly 100,000 Black voters who don’t currently live in Black-majority districts into districts where they would have an opportunity to elect candidates of their choice, compared to just 3,000 Black voters under the GOP map.

But Republican members of the Senate committee said the Democrats’ map was aimed at partisan gain. While the Republican-drawn map could be expected to return the current mix of 33 Republicans and 23 Democrats to the Senate, the Democrats’ map likely would result in the Democrats gaining two seats, said Sen. Bill Cowsert, R-Athens.

“You ended up making a partisan map,” Cowsert told the Democrats.

Democrats made similar complaints about the GOP-drawn House map. House Democratic Leader James Beverly, D-Macon, presented a Democratic alternative that would change boundaries in only 23 House districts, compared to 56 districts under the Republican-drawn map.

Democrats conceded the GOP House map would comply with the court order by creating five additional Black-majority House districts. But Bryan Sells, a lawyer representing the House Democratic Caucus, said the Republican map also would increase the white population in two districts that – while not currently majority Black – have enough people of color to elect a minority candidate.

Republicans on the committee pointed out that the Democratic alternative map would create only four Black-majority districts, not the five the court order requires.

Sells responded that the Democrats’ map would create a fifth “opportunity” district with sufficient minority population to elect a minority candidate.

“The Voting Rights Act does not require majority-Black districts,” he said. “The Voting Rights Act requires districts in which Black voters have an opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice.”

But Rep. Rob Leverett, R-Elberton, the House committee’s chairman, said he would not be comfortable failing to fulfill the letter of Jones’ ruling by not creating five additional Black-majority districts.

“I am leery of construing a judge’s order in a way that could lead me to jeopardy,” he said.

The two Republican maps now move to the full House and Senate, which are likely to vote on them on Friday.