Opinion: Ga. needs a fairer redistricting process

January 27, 2015 - Atlanta - The newly placed Statue of Liberty looks toward the Gold Dome. The statue was a gift from the Boy Scouts of America in the 1950's and is now located in Liberty Plaza across from the Capitol. Both the Senate and the House were in session today, With no bills ready for debate yet, both chambers focused on less serious matters. In the House, it was picture day (The Senate’s is Wednesday). The House and Senate each got a visit from representatives from the smokin’ hot Atlanta Hawks. BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM PHOTO BY BOB ANDRES / AJC
January 27, 2015 - Atlanta - The newly placed Statue of Liberty looks toward the Gold Dome. The statue was a gift from the Boy Scouts of America in the 1950's and is now located in Liberty Plaza across from the Capitol. Both the Senate and the House were in session today, With no bills ready for debate yet, both chambers focused on less serious matters. In the House, it was picture day (The Senate’s is Wednesday). The House and Senate each got a visit from representatives from the smokin’ hot Atlanta Hawks. BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM PHOTO BY BOB ANDRES / AJC

In the past, both Republicans and Democrats have wielded the redistricting process in an anti-democratic manner. Georgians are frustrated by a process that dilutes the power of their votes and skews electoral votes and public policy.

This year, the state legislature will enter the once-a-decade process of redrawing Georgia’s Congressional and legislative districts, which means that the disconnect between politicians and voters will be on full display. Voters want fair maps. Legislators want personal and partisan political power.

My Democratic colleagues and I have repeatedly pushed Republican leaders in Georgia to institute reforms that would prevent politicians from drawing their own districts. Georgians would be best served if our state would follow the example of an increasing number of other states and create an independent, citizen-led commission which is entrusted with drawing our districts.

While my Republican colleagues failed to proactively address the shortcomings in the redistricting process through legislation, it is not too late to act. Establishing clear rules can protect the map-drawing process from partisan interference and ensure that maps reflect community input and preferences.

In the past, both Republicans and Democrats have wielded the redistricting process in an anti-democratic manner. Georgians are frustrated by a process that dilutes the power of their votes and skews electoral votes and public policy. This has far-reaching consequences. By creating districts where party control is all but assured, the importance of the general election – in which citizens of all parties vote – is diminished, and primary elections become the deciding factor.

Primary voters tend to be committed partisans, with views that are further right or left of the general population. In a system where representation is decided by primary elections, elected officials are incentivized to respond to the views of their “base” (i.e. their primary voters), rather than the entirety of their district. In fact, many elected officials will legislate with the goal of warding off primary challengers from the right or the left. This process hardens partisan divides and skews policy away from the views of the broader middle of the electorate. This in turn inhibits our ability to solve the very real challenges facing our country.

Elena Parent
Elena Parent

Credit: contributed

Credit: contributed

The maps that will be drawn matter. They define whether or not Georgians have access to healthcare and high-quality public education. They decide whether we have an economy that uplifts all Georgians. They define and decide our families’ futures.

We cannot allow the 2021 redistricting cycle to unfold in the same way that it has in the past. As elected officials, we must set clear rules for ourselves before the map-drawing begins and provide for a fair and transparent process which ensures public participation.

Public participation is essential to drawing maps that accurately reflect and protect Georgia communities. Citizens must be able to both voice their concerns and receive honest and accurate information regarding why certain choices have been made.

I call on the leaders of the House and Senate to adopt rules for the Reapportionment Committees that will:

  • Require that all proposed maps be available online within 48 hours, along with district-level demographic information.
  • Ensure that legislative hearings to consider redistricting bills take place no sooner than two weeks after proposed maps are released to the public.
  • Provide for a minimum of two public hearings in each metropolitan area of the state.
  • Allow for virtual and remote participation in public hearings so that citizens from across the state have the opportunity to participate and provide testimony, no matter their employment or family circumstances.
  • Stream all hearings live and post them online after the fact, so that the public can easily access and view the discussions that took place.
  • Require the legislature to deliver written responses to public submissions and questions regarding proposed maps and the logic behind them.

These reforms would mark a dramatic departure from the current system, in which the maps that form the foundation of our democracy are drawn behind closed doors in the interests of partisanship and power above all else.

If we act now, we can ensure that we create a system in which our citizens can express their concerns and hold those in charge accountable for their actions. Democracy dictates that voters choose their elected representatives, not the other way around.

State Sen. Elena Parent, D-Decatur, is chairwoman of the Georgia Senate Democratic Caucus.

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