Georgia lawmakers start redistricting process before making maps

Reapportionment of legislative, congressional seats opens with town hall meeting
Republican state Sen. John Kennedy and state Rep. Bonnie Rich led a public forum Tuesday on Georgia's upcoming redistricting process. The General Assembly will redraw the state's political boundaries later this year.

Republican state Sen. John Kennedy and state Rep. Bonnie Rich led a public forum Tuesday on Georgia's upcoming redistricting process. The General Assembly will redraw the state's political boundaries later this year.

The contentious task of carving Georgia into new political districts began Tuesday with a town hall meeting where concerned residents urged state legislators to rise above partisanship and create fair maps.

Many of those who spoke during the online meeting said they want to avoid gerrymandering, in which lawmakers draw oddly shaped districts that divide communities and reduce competition in elections.

Gerrymandering is common in redistricting as the majority party — which makes most of the decisions — fights to maintain its power.

The public forum, hosted by the General Assembly’s Joint Reapportionment Committee, was the first of 11 planned meetings across the state this summer before map-making gets underway late this fall. Then the Republican-led Legislature will conduct the once-in-a-decade process of shifting voters.

The committee listened to comments and didn’t make any decisions Tuesday.

Comments frequently came from students and civic organizations who asked to be able to see maps well before they’re voted on, allowing for rigorous public debate. They’re seeking ground rules that give them more of a voice when politicians choose which voters they represent.

Sunny Park, a high school student, said maps that reflect city and community boundaries will encourage participation in politics.

“First-time voters like us have a hard time knowing which communities our representatives represent,” Park said. “Ensure that our future Georgia voters will have much simpler, better represented districts.”

Karuna Ramachandran of the Georgia Redistricting Alliance, an advocacy organization focused on equitable redistricting for people of color, the LGBTQ community and immigrants, said Tuesday’s public forum failed to accomplish much.

“These meetings seem to be an effort to check a box rather than creating pathways for meaningful public involvement,” Ramachandran said.

The outcome of redistricting later this year will have consequences for years to come, helping define representation in Congress, the state House and the state Senate long before voters go the polls.

Each district must have roughly the same number of voters after the state’s population grew by 1 million, reaching a total of 10.7 million residents. But the shape of those districts can be decided by legislators.

The Republican majority in the General Assembly will attempt to approve maps that increase their control of 58% of state legislative districts, and Democrats will try to stop them while also preserving their own seats. Lawsuits challenging the fairness of maps could follow.

On the congressional level, Democrats worry that suburban U.S. House districts represented by U.S. Reps. Carolyn Bourdeaux and Lucy McBath could be combined in a way that results in an additional Republican seat.

Gerald Hutchinson, a retiree, told legislators that they should try to make districts that are more competitive between Republicans and Democrats. He wants moderate politicians to have a better chance of winning elections.

“We are too partisan, too polarized and too divided in our politics,” Hutchinson said. “I don’t like it that politicians get to pick their voters by gerrymandering their districts.”

Redistricting in Georgia

Here’s how the redistricting process will work out this year:

Summer: State lawmakers hold 11 town hall meetings to hear from the public about the once-in-a-decade process of redrawing Georgia’s political boundaries.

By Sept. 30: The U.S. Census Bureau will release detailed data that will be used for redistricting, including population counts by race, voting age and housing occupancy status.

Late fall: The Georgia General Assembly will convene a special session at the state Capitol to create new borders for state House, state Senate and U.S. House districts.

Nov. 8, 2022: Elections for governor, statewide offices, 236 state legislative districts, 14 U.S. House members and the U.S. Senate seat held by Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock.

Here’s the schedule for the remaining public meetings:

  • June 28 — Atlanta, 5-7 p.m. in Room 341 of the Georgia Capitol
  • June 29 — Cumming, 5-7 p.m. in the South Forsyth High School cafeteria
  • June 30 — Dalton, 5-7 p.m. in the Goodroe Auditorium at Dalton State College
  • July 6 — Athens
  • July 7 — Augusta
  • July 26 — Brunswick
  • July 27 — Albany
  • July 28 — Columbus
  • July 29 — Macon
  • July 30 — Virtual only