Georgia Republican-drawn maps head to votes in House and Senate

Committees pass redistricting bills
Senate Reapportionment and Redistricting Committee members vote during a meeting Thursday at the Georgia Capitol after Democrats presented a new proposal to redraw district maps. Miguel Martinez /miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Senate Reapportionment and Redistricting Committee members vote during a meeting Thursday at the Georgia Capitol after Democrats presented a new proposal to redraw district maps. Miguel Martinez /miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com

Republican lawmakers pushed ahead Thursday with their redrawn political maps for the state Senate and House, setting up a flurry of final votes in response to a federal judge’s order that they create more majority-Black districts.

Voting along party lines, Republican-led redistricting committees in each chamber approved the maps they say will satisfy the judge’s order. Democrats opposed the bills and presented their own versions of redrawn maps.

Both the Senate and House plan floor debates and votes Friday, just two days after redistricting bills were introduced.

Republicans said they complied with U.S. District Judge Steve Jones’ ruling that ordered the General Assembly to redraw the state maps it passed two years ago because he found they illegally weakened Black voting strength.

The GOP’s redistricting proposal adds seven more majority-Black state Senate and House districts but minimizes opportunities for Democrats to gain seats. Republicans drew the maps in a way to protect every incumbent in the Senate and likely give up just two seats in the House.

Credit: Miguel Martinez

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Credit: Miguel Martinez

Senate Democrats accused their Republican colleagues of using “smoke and mirrors” to make it appear as though they were complying with the judge’s order by adjusting two Atlanta districts that are held by Democrats to have a majority of Black voters. Instead, Democrats said, Republicans should have focused on creating majority-Black districts in the southern suburbs as directed by the judge.

“Yesterday’s map makes ... barely any changes for providing Black voters any new opportunities,” said Democratic Caucus Chairwoman Elena Parent, whose Atlanta district was one of two in the Senate redrawn to have a majority of Black voters. “Under the proposal yesterday, 80% of the new Black voters come from areas outside the affected area.”

Redistricting of the Georgia General Assembly precedes a more nationally prominent change: a revised map for the U.S. House, where Republicans hold a 9-5 advantage in the state. A judge ordered lawmakers to create an additional U.S. House district with a Black majority, but a proposal for new political lines has yet to be released.

Credit: Miguel Martinez

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Credit: Miguel Martinez

House Redistricting Chairman Rob Leverett said the redrawn state lines comply with the judge’s requirement for additional districts where Black voters make up a majority.

“I’m overweight and I don’t look good in horizontal stripes, so I don’t want to violate a court order,” said Leverett, a Republican from Elberton.

The House Republican majority protected its partisan advantage by moving three sets of Democratic incumbents into the same districts, forcing half of them out of office in next year’s election. One pair of GOP incumbents is also drawn together.

Though Black residents accounted for nearly half of Georgia’s overall population growth since 2010, Jones’ decision concluded that redistricting prevented adequate opportunities for representation.

“I voted for the 2021 bill believing, and being advised by legal counsel, that it was not discriminatory,” said state Sen. Bill Cowsert, an Athens Republican. “We’re doing our very best to comply.”

The redistricting session started Wednesday with public hearings and the introduction of bills that will sprint through the legislative process. Revised maps must be signed into law by the end of next week to meet Jones’ Dec. 8 deadline.

Republicans currently hold a 33-23 majority in the state Senate and a 102-78 advantage in the state House under GOP-drawn maps from 2021, a lead that would remain mostly intact under the new district borders.

“The state changed over the last 10 years,” said House Minority Leader James Beverly, a Democrat from Macon. “The reality is the map that was drawn a couple of years ago does not reflect that change.”

Georgia has appealed Jones’ ruling, but legislators said the new political boundaries they pass in the next few days will likely be used in next year’s elections if the judge doesn’t reject them.

If the appeal is successful, the redistricting bills introduced Wednesday call for the state’s 2021 maps to be reinstated.

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