Georgia House OKs election maps that seek to preserve GOP seats in Democratic Cobb County

Ben Williams, President of the Cobb County Chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, speaks out against proposed Cobb redistricting maps at a Wednesday press conference in Marietta.

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Ben Williams, President of the Cobb County Chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, speaks out against proposed Cobb redistricting maps at a Wednesday press conference in Marietta.

The Georgia House of Representatives on Monday approved sweeping changes to Cobb County’s local election maps that would help a vulnerable Republican commissioner win re-election, while potentially forcing a newly elected Democrat out of office two years before her term ends.

The map passed 95-64 over the objections of Cobb County Democrats, who accused Republicans of ignoring their own rules in order to retain some political power in an increasingly Democratic area.

The map would create large conservative majorities in two out of four commission districts in a county that supported Democratic President Joe Biden by 14 percentage points in 2020. A fifth commissioner, the board chair, is elected countywide, creating a 3-2 split overall.

Monday’s floor vote was just the latest in a series of contentious, partisan fights at the state legislature over the future of Cobb County.

For the first time in recent memory, Democrats represent a majority of the county’s state lawmakers, which would traditionally give them control of the once-a-decade local redistricting process. But this session, Republicans have bypassed the normal rules in order to draw maps that are more favorable to conservative candidates in Democratic-led counties such as Cobb, Gwinnett and Athens-Clarke.

Democrats on Monday accused Republicans of drawing the maps in secret, while state Republicans blamed local officials for not coming to a bipartisan consensus on redistricting.

“I regret that it has come to this point,” said Rep. John Carson (R-Marietta), who sponsored the Cobb map. But he defended his proposal, saying it “reflects the political composition of the county” by keeping in place today’s 3-2 Democratic majority.

To do so, it makes drastic changes to the two districts that cover the eastern half of the county. It would draw Democrat Jerica Richardson out of her seat in District 2 and shift more conservative voters into District 3 to shore up the re-election chances of Republican JoAnn Birrell.

House Republicans also approved school redistricting maps backed by the Republican-led school board. If the bills are approved by the state Senate and signed into law by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, they are sure to be contested in court.

State Rep. Bee Nguyen (D-Atlanta) said the commission map could violate the Voting Rights Act by packing racial minorities into two districts and diluting their voting power. By drawing Richardson out of her district, it could also run afoul of a state law that prohibits lawmakers from ending an elected official’s term prematurely without voter consent. Commissioners are required to live in the district they represent.

“This will be litigated in court — and that cost will be passed on to the voters of Cobb County,” Nguyen said.

ExploreMore coverage of redistricting in metro Atlanta from the AJC