Take two: Georgia lawmakers make another attempt at redistricting

Redrawing of congressional and General Assembly lines begins Wednesday
State Sen. Nan Orrock, D-Atlanta, examines newly drawn congressional maps during the General Assembly's 2021 special session for redistricting. Lawmakers will return to the Georgia Capitol on Wednesday to redraw those maps in a way that will comply with a federal judge's order. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

State Sen. Nan Orrock, D-Atlanta, examines newly drawn congressional maps during the General Assembly's 2021 special session for redistricting. Lawmakers will return to the Georgia Capitol on Wednesday to redraw those maps in a way that will comply with a federal judge's order. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Georgia’s lawmakers return to Atlanta on Wednesday for a special legislative session with one major task: redraw the state’s political districts in a way that a federal judge says complies with the law.

The stakes are high, with Democrats hoping to make inroads into Georgia’s Republican majority in Congress and the General Assembly.

U.S. District Judge Steve Jones last month threw out the state’s congressional and legislative maps, saying they violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by illegally diluting Black voting power.

The Republican-led General Assembly has until Dec. 8 to add majority-Black congressional, state Senate and state House districts.

That could mean ceding those districts to Democrats, narrowing the Republican margins in the U.S. House and Georgia General Assembly. Black voters overwhelmingly support Democrats while most white voters in Georgia back Republicans.

Republicans hold a 9-5 majority in Georgia’s U.S. House delegation, a 33-23 lead in the state Senate and a 102-78 advantage in the state House.

Redistricting is inherently political. Lawmakers have the opportunity to maintain or expand their power by picking their voters and getting an advantage long before elections. While federal law allows drawing districts to gain a partisan advantage, drawing lines based on race is illegal.

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

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Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

“We’re definitely a purple swing state,” said Janet Grant, vice chairwoman for Fair Districts GA, a redistricting advocacy group. “These additional districts that Judge Jones is ordering will reflect, both from a partisan and racial perspective, the intent and makeup of the state’s electorate.”

U.S. House seat up for grabs

Credit: Isaac Sabetai

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Credit: Isaac Sabetai

The biggest prize in Georgia’s redistricting redo is a seat in Congress.

Democrats hope an additional district with a Black majority will allow them to regain a seat they lost to Republicans after the first round of redistricting in 2021.

During redistricting two years ago, the Republican-controlled General Assembly was able to flip the 6th Congressional District by drawing new political boundaries that included heavily conservative and white areas north of Atlanta.

As a result, Republican Rich McCormick won the seat in last year’s elections, and U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, a Black woman who previously held the 6th District post, switched districts and ousted her Democratic colleague Carolyn Bourdeaux in the primary.

And with judges across the country throwing out the maps of Republican-led states and requiring them to create majority-Black congressional districts, Democrats hope they can chip away at the GOP’s control of the U.S. House. Republicans currently hold a 222-212 majority.

Black representation

White Republicans hold nearly two-thirds of Georgia’s seats in the U.S. House, exceeding white residents’ 50% share of the state’s population. Black Democrats control the other five seats, with Black residents making up one-third of residents.

Besides an additional majority-Black district in Congress, Jones also ordered the General Assembly to create five more state House and two more state Senate districts where most of the population is Black. Those districts should be located in south metro Atlanta and near Macon, Jones ordered.

What to expect

While Republicans must comply with Jones’ order, they still hold 57% of the seats in the General Assembly, giving them the numbers they need to craft maps that retain their political advantage.

Republican legislators haven’t yet released proposed maps, but it’s a given that they will try to minimize potential losses.

Once the special session begins at the Capitol on Wednesday, bills will be introduced for new maps for the U.S. House, the state Senate and the state House.

Those bills will move through public committee hearings followed by votes in each chamber.

With Jones’ Dec. 8 deadline, legislators will have eight business days to reshape the state’s political landscape.

A new slate of leaders

While Republicans were in power when they drew maps two years ago, the people in leadership positions are all different.

Both chambers have new top officials — Lt. Gov. Burt Jones in the Senate and Speaker Jon Burns in the House. The Senate and House both also have new majority leaders and new chairs of their respective chambers’ redistricting committees, which the bills must pass through.

House Redistricting Chair Rob Leverett, an Elberton Republican, is in his second term in office and first year leading the committee. Senate Redistricting Chair Shelly Echols, a Republican from Alto, was elected last year.

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