state of Georgia on the map of the US
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ATLANTA —  As the Georgia Legislature’s Republican-dominated redistricting committees formally began the job of drawing new congressional and legislative maps this week, they first had to defend the first ones the GOP had ever drawn in Georgia, 10 years ago. 

Also during Monday’s organizing meetings, the committees adopted the exact same guidelines used in 2011, with only some technological advancements, ignoring multiple pleas from the public for more transparency than the last time around.

The House Legislative and Congressional Reapportionment Committee and the Senate Reapportionment and Redistricting Committee just received the data from the U.S Census Bureau two weeks ago, but they anticipate a special session of the full Legislature later this fall to approve the maps they propose for Congress, and the state House and Senate. 

During a joint committee meeting, Sachin Varghese, the general counsel for the Georgia Democratic Party, complained about the 2011 redistricting process, saying the maps that resulted should have been thrown out for violating the Voting Rights Act of 1965 for racial discrimination.

“The Obama Justice Department did preclear those maps and they got it wrong,” he said.  “The fact is the Obama administration got it wrong,” 

Redistricting usually has the majority party trying to move district lines to help maintain control and hold their seats in the legislature. The Democratic party controlled the Georgia Legislature and the redistricting process for decades through the 2001 redistricting, but their initial maps always had to be redrawn after they were reviewed by the U.S. Department of Justice for Voting Rights Act violations. That oversight ended, however, with the 2013 Supreme Court decision in the Shelby v. Holder case. 

“I think what you’re going to find is that the Republican party has handled redistricting one time in the last 100 years and the maps were found fair, legal, constitutional, and approved by the Democratic presidential administration,” Sen. Bill Cowsert, Republican of Athens, told Varghese. 

After House and Senate redistricting committees first met jointly and listened to a parade of interest groups, then they broke into separate meetings to adopt new guidelines for the 2021 redistricting process. Many people during the joint meeting, as well as the public hearings this summer, asked the committee to be more transparent and to allow more public participation in the redistricting process than the last time. But the new guidelines were virtually the same as the guidelines used in 2011. 

Both committees adopted identical guidelines, reserving the right to add to them as they go along. 

  • The districts should be equal in population, as close as possible, which means Congressional Districts would have 765,136 people each, State Senate 191,284, and Georgia House 59,511. 
  • All maps must also comply with the U.S and Georgia Constitutions as well as the Voting Rights Act of 1965. 
  • County and precinct boundaries should be respected. Districts should be compacted and contiguous.  
  • Communities of interest should be kept intact.
  • Incumbents should not be put in the same district.

“These are things we have heard from the public and that they wanted and these are what we will follow,” Sen. John Kennedy, Republican of Macon, said. 

The committees also heard 10-minute presentations from spokesmen and spokeswomen for the National Conference of State Legislature, Common Cause, American Civil Liberties Union, Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, Asian American Advanced Justice Atlanta, and the League of Women Voters.  They asked, unanimously, for more transparency and more public participation in the committees’ work.

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