Redistricting Debate: black balld man with navy blue suit looking at a man in a wooden podium
Sen. John Kennedy (R-18, Macon) answers a question from Emanuel Jones (D-10, Decatur), foreground, in the Senate Chambers during a special session at the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta on Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021. The hearing was a step toward votes on new political maps for the state House, state Senate and Congress during a once-a-decade redistricting session of the General Assembly. (Hyosub Shin/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

ATLANTA (AP) — The Georgia state Senate approved a redistricting proposal on Friday that is likely to shift a congressional district from Democratic to Republican control, moving it closer to becoming law.

Senators voted 32-21 along party lines to approve Senate Bill 2EX, sending it to the House for more debate. House members are likely to vote on the congressional map on Monday, sending it to Gov. Brian Kemp for his likely signature.

“This map represents all Georgians and is a map we can be proud of,” said state Sen. John Kennedy, a Macon Republican who chaired Senate redistricting efforts. ”It’s a pretty map. You don’t see funky lines and weird-drawn districts. It’s a pretty map because you look at it and it is striking visually that it is not gerrymandered.”

State Sen. Elena Parent, an Atlanta Democrat, said a “partisan and rushed process” delivered “a map that fails to reflect the population changes we’ve seen in Georgia. It aims to give Republicans a 64% majority of the congressional delegation in a 50-50 state. It does not add any minority opportunity districts despite all the population increase having come from communities of color.”

Democrats offered and Republicans rejected a map that was likely to result in a 7-7 split between the parties.

The Senate’s map is likely to shift Georgia’s 6th Congressional District from Democratic to Republican control. Democratic Rep. Lucy McBath wrested the seat once held by Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich away from the GOP in 2018 and won re-election in 2020. But the new map removes parts of it from close-in Atlanta suburbs, into much more Republican exurban and rural territory.

That would bump the overall balance of Georgia’s 14 congressional districts from the current 8-6 Republican margin to a 9-5 GOP edge, despite a roughly even divide among the electorate statewide that delivered Democratic victories in the 2020 presidential race and January’s two U.S. Senate runoffs.

Democrats zeroed in on Republicans targeting McBath’s seat as contrary to Georgia’s demographic changes. Georgia’s population rose nearly 10% to 10.7 million people over the last decade, but Census results showed the growth has been uneven. Atlanta, Savannah and other cities boomed, while rural areas mostly lost population.

State Sen. Michelle Au of Johns Creek said the population of the current 6th district was already within a 1,000 people of the target of 765,136 for each of Georgia’s House districts. She called the 6th an “exemplar” of a shift toward Democrats in suburban Atlanta, and said the redistricting process should have recognized that.

Instead, Republicans created a district where almost half the residents are new.

“It’s really difficult to justify this wholesale transfusion of voters from the Georgia 6th,” Au said.

The GOP map also shifts the 7th District in Atlanta’s suburbs, now held by Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux, toward Democrats.

Fair Districts Georgia, a nonpartisan group, has argued that an 8-6 split would most fairly represent Georgia’s current political landscape, where many Democrats are tightly clustered in urban areas. That group and some others are also critical of the Republican map because none of its proposed districts are likely to be competitive among the two major parties.

“This is designed to hold the Republican majority regardless of your input,” said Sen. Nikki Merritt, a Grayson Democrat.

Democrats and Republicans in legislatures nationwide have been using the redistricting process to try to increase their party’s edge in the narrowly divided Congress. Republicans control more of the 50 statehouses, and hope to leverage this advantage to flip the U.S. House to a GOP majority next year.

Link to updated Georgia redistricting maps: Scroll down and click “Proposed Plans” tab to see the maps.

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