Georgia Republicans pass maps that secure control of General Assembly

State Senate also approved GOP-drawn congressional maps
State Sen. Bo Hatchett, R-Cornelia, speaks about redistricting legislation Tuesday during the special legislative session at the Georgia Capitol in Atlanta. (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

State Sen. Bo Hatchett, R-Cornelia, speaks about redistricting legislation Tuesday during the special legislative session at the Georgia Capitol in Atlanta. (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

The Georgia General Assembly gave final approval to new maps redrawing its own district lines Tuesday after a federal judge ordered the creation of seven more majority-Black districts, sending the legislation to Gov. Brian Kemp for his signature.

The maps — which add majority-Black districts but minimize Democratic gains — passed on party-line votes in both the state Senate and House. Democrats opposed the bills and presented their own versions of redrawn maps.

Republicans drew the new majority-Black districts in a way that protects every incumbent in the Senate and likely gives up just two seats in the House. In Georgia, Black voters overwhelmingly support Democrats while most white voters back Republicans.

Democrats said the GOP maps fail to comply with U.S. District Judge Steve Jones’ order after ruling that the General Assembly illegally weakened Black voting strength in violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 during redistricting two years ago.

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But Republicans said they followed Jones’ order to create more Black districts — two in the Senate and five in the House — even though those districts wouldn’t do much to increase representation for Black voters in next year’s elections.

“How in the world are we weakening the Black vote in these two districts if we are drawing a majority (Black) district?” asked state Rep. James Burchett, a Republican from Waycross. “I cannot for the life of me figure that out. How are we diluting the vote?”

Democrats called the GOP’s maps a “hoax,” “smoke and mirrors” and a “shell game.”

“Georgia Republicans would rather force the court to draw these maps than pass fair maps that recognize the growing power of voters of color,” said state Sen. Tonya Anderson, a Democrat from Lithonia. “This map weakens the power of Black voters. It exists only to entrench the power of the current majority.”

Georgia’s Black population has increased by nearly 500,000 residents since 2010, but they weren’t given adequate opportunities for additional representation, according to the judge’s ruling. The state’s white population declined by about 52,000 in the past decade.

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.

Under the House map, the 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.

In the Senate map, two “new” majority-Black districts in south metro Atlanta would be represented by Black Democratic incumbents, state Sens. Gail Davenport and Donzella James.

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

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Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

“My primary objective here, and I hope it’s all of our primary objective, is to comply with Judge Jones’ order,” said House Redistricting Chairman Rob Leverett, a Republican from Elberton. “This plan complies with the order and fulfills our obligation.”

The state Senate also approved revised congressional districts on a party-line vote that would maintain Republicans’ 9-5 majority in the state’s U.S. House delegation.

Credit: Special

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Credit: Special

Democrats said the new legislative and congressional maps essentially ensure that elections are decided during party primaries.

“By drawing maps the way you have drawn them, (you’re) making the politics of our state more extreme, more toxic, forcing yourselves to take more extreme positions,” said state Sen. Jason Esteves, an Atlanta Democrat. “In this chamber, I’ve seen some of you sweat over the votes you have had to take because of the threat of a primary challenge from someone more extreme. Yet, here you are supporting maps that continue the status quo for the sake of maintaining your power.”

Jones ordered an additional majority-Black U.S. House district, but the General Assembly’s proposed congressional map solidifies existing party splits and doesn’t include opportunities for more competition or changes.

The congressional map could receive a final vote in the House on Thursday.

Kemp must sign the revised maps into law by Friday to meet Jones’ Dec. 8 deadline.

Georgia has appealed Jones’ ruling, but the new political boundaries will be used in next year’s elections unless the judge rejects them and his decisions survive in appellate courts.

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