Redistricting in Georgia: What is it and how will it affect you?

The Georgia Legislature will be redrawing district boundaries this year for Congress, state House and state Senate

The outcome of redistricting later this year will have consequences for years to come, affecting who is elected and perhaps the balance of power between Democrats and Republicans in Congress, the state House and the state Senate.

Starting with the work of Legislature’s Joint Reapportionment Committee, Georgia lawmakers will craft and approve new political maps. Decisions on the boundaries are made by state legislators, even though the districts they are redrawing include their own. It’s a contentious and complicated job. The legislature’s redistricting special session will begin Nov. 3 and last about three weeks.

Each district must have roughly the same number of voters, adjusted to account for the 2020 Census. Georgia’s population grew by 1 million since the 2010 Census, to 10.7 million residents.

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.

When all is done, many voters and even some current elected officials, may end up assigned to new election districts. Candidates will run in those new districts in 2022. House Speaker David Ralston said he expects legislators to redistrict the state in late fall, or, as he phrased it, when “the frost on the pumpkin.”

UPDATE: Governor announces special session in November for Georgia redistricting

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.

ExploreIndepth: An illustrated guide to redistricting in Georgia

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Follow Georgia Legislature updates on redistricting from the AJC Politics team

What is gerrymandering?

It’s a practice of drawing oddly shaped districts that divide communities and reduce competition in elections.

Each district must have about the same number of voters, but the shape of those districts can be adjusted for other reasons, splitting cities and even neighborhoods into different districts to create districts that favor one political party or another. Gerrymandering is common in redistricting as the majority party — which makes most of the decisions — fights to maintain its power.

The distinction between good civic boundaries and gerrymandering can be a matter of opinion. That’s the reason the process is closely watched and often challenged in court.

ExploreAugust 2021: Pleas for fairness meet political reality in Georgia redistricting

How large will each Georgia district be?

Here’s a look at how many voters will be included in each Georgia district, based on 2020 Census growth

14 congressional districts: 765,136 residents each

56 state Senate districts: 191,284 residents each

180 state House seats: 59,511 residents each

Georgia population: 10,711,908

Source: House Budget and Research Office

When will the decision be made?

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. Party primaries will be held earlier in the year.

ExploreUpdate: Release of Georgia 2020 Census results set stage for the redistricting fight, beginning first in the Legislature

How the AJC will cover redistricting

Atlanta-Journal Constitution reporters continue to cover the redrawing of district boundaries for congressional and legislative seats, based on 2020 census numbers. Each congressional and legislative district must have roughly the same number of voters, and the General Assembly will be redrawing district lines to make sure they conform to that standard. Those lines are important because lawmakers — using computer modeling — can draw them in such a way that they lean toward one party or the other, based on the voters they include within the boundaries.

The new district lines could cement Republican control of the General Assembly through much of the 2020s, or give Democrats a chance to gain seats and influence. For many Georgians, the new districts will mean new representatives in Congress and in the Legislature. Some Georgians represented by Democrats could be moved into Republican districts and vice versa.

AJC reporters began covering redistricting well before the session started, explaining how it will work and how the state has changed based on new census numbers. As journalists, our goal is to make sure you understand how these upcoming changes will impact who represents you and your voice. That’s why our reporters were be at the Capitol when the redistricting session began in fall 2021, bringing you news of proposed maps, covering committee meetings, and explaining what the proposals and final product will mean for the 2022 elections and beyond.

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How can I learn more?

The General Assembly’s Joint Reapportionment Committee held 11 meetings across the state during the summer before the work on redistricting begins sometime in the fall. The public hearings will be livestreamed and available afterward on demand at www.legis.ga.gov. The Legislative and Congressional Reapportionment Office also has a web page with links to maps and other resources about the process.

Private organizations, including Fair Count, Fair Districts and Common Cause, are trying to educate the public and encourage participation in community meetings and the work of the Legislature.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Politics team will provide coverage of the Reapportionment Committee and an expected special legislative session to approve the new district maps. Our Politics email newsletter and social media accounts on Facebook and Twitter are also good ways to keep up with our coverage.

ExploreGeorgia Census 2020: Full coverage from the AJC