Redistricting of the state Senate and House will occur alongside a remap of Georgia’s congressional districts to ensure one additional district with a Black majority. Republicans currently hold nine of Georgia’s 14 congressional seats.
The most contentious state legislative battlegrounds are rapidly growing districts south of Atlanta, where Black populations boomed in Republican-held areas over the past decade. Black voters overwhelmingly support Democrats, while most white Georgia voters tend to back Republicans.
“We have a lot of purple people here,” said Noelle Kahaian, who finished behind freshman state Rep. Lauren Daniel, a Republican from Locust Grove, during last year’s GOP primary. “We have, frankly, a very large independent faction in Henry County that seems to be growing by the day, whether they’re leaving the blue side or the red side.”
In his redistricting ruling, U.S. District Judge Steve Jones highlighted regions where the number of Black voters is large enough to justify additional districts, especially in southern metro Atlanta and Macon.
One of those districts, held by Republican state Sen. Brian Strickland, had a shrinking 46% white plurality before redistricting in 2021. The Republican majority reshaped the district to make it 57% white, and Strickland won reelection last year.
Strickland’s colleague in a neighboring district, Democratic state Sen. Emanuel Jones, said he wasn’t surprised the judge focused on their area in the 516-page court order. The senator and the judge are not related.
Jones, the senator, said Republican legislators drew district lines in a way that concentrated Black voters in surrounding districts while filling Strickland’s district with more white voters, making it likely to elect Republicans.
“I felt all along that this area, the south side (of metro Atlanta) and Henry County corridor, was a target of the Republicans’ efforts to pack people of color in the districts so that they can retain the majority in the Legislature, and Judge Jones saw through it,” said Jones the senator.
Now legislators will have to reshuffle that area yet again.
“Slicing and dicing these districts has really set us back a generation,” said Kendra Cotton, CEO for the New Georgia Project, a voter mobilization organization that focuses on people of color. “The courts have said: ‘You’ve gone a little bit too far. You need to go back to the drawing board and get this right.’ ”
Many of the districts that must be redrawn are in the same areas that liberal groups have already targeted for upcoming elections. The New Georgia Project collaborated with the Center for Popular Democracy Action, a liberal advocacy group, on a report that listed 15 competitive districts, several of which are the same districts that will be redrawn with Black majorities.
Strickland, whose district is now vulnerable after it survived lawsuits over redistricting in the past decade, said he will continue focusing on issues — mental health, inflation, jobs — no matter how political boundaries are changed.
“The evolving federal law concerning redistricting is beyond my control,” said Strickland, who represents the McDonough area.
“I won’t let the noise around this complicated process distract me going forward,” he said.
Sen. Jones said he’s watched the influx of Black residents in the southern suburbs over the past three decades.
“This last redistricting, I publicly stated they had packed my district,” said Jones, who is Black. “They took groups of Black people and moved them from my friend’s (Strickland) district, the 17th, in order to make his district winnable for a Republican.”
Redistricting could hit powerful Republicans besides Strickland, who is the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Other Senate Republican leaders in the redistricting crosshairs include Rules Chairman Matt Brass of Newnan, Retirement Chairman Rick Williams of Milledgeville, and Veterans, Military, and Homeland Security Chairman Mike Dugan.
On the House side, less-senior Republican representatives could see their districts made less winnable, such as Reps. Daniel, Bethany Ballard of Warner Robins, Karen Mathiak of Griffin and Kimberly New of Villa Rica.
Republicans hold a 102-78 majority over Democrats in the state House and a 33-23 lead in the state Senate.
But Republicans have an opportunity to slow their legislative losses by targeting white Democrats in population-dense metro Atlanta areas with non-Black majorities in the 2024 elections.
For example, of 78 Democratic-represented state House districts, white people are the voting-age majority in eight and the largest group in 12 more. White people are the voting-age majority in three Democratic-represented Senate districts and a plurality in three other Democratic districts.
— The Associated Press contributed to this article.
New districts ordered
U.S. District Judge Steve Jones ordered the Georgia General Assembly to redistrict the state, ruling that current districts weaken Black voting strength in violation of the Voting Rights Act.
Jones required legislators to draw new political boundaries that have additional districts with Black majorities: one in Congress, two in the state Senate and five in the state House.
The redistricting session begins Nov. 29, and Jones set a Dec. 8 deadline for new maps to be approved.