Georgia GOP senators float court-ordered political map that seems to target two incumbent Democrats
This story was updated at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2023, with additional comment.
Georgia Senate Republicans on Monday released a court-ordered revision of a redistricting map that would shift the concentration of Black voters in several legislative districts.
On Monday, state Sen. Shelly Echols, a Gainesville Republican, announced the draft of new Georgia Senate districts while inviting the public to chime in on the redistricting process that begins Wednesday with the start of a special legislative session.
The draft map is the early attempt at a legislative response to U.S. District Court Judge Steve C. Jones’ ruling on Nov. 2 that the state’s GOP-drawn boundary lines violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act by diluting the voting strength of Black Georgians.
The state will not be able to use these maps in next year’s election when all of its members of Congress and the Georgia General Assembly will be on the ballot. A deadline of Dec. 8 has been set for both the House and Senate to draw new maps that will create two new majority Black state Senate districts and five new majority Black state House districts.
“The map introduced today by Senator Echols allows the Senate to fulfill its obligations as specified by the court order,” Lt. Gov. Burt Jones said in a statement. “In the coming days, I look forward to a thorough debate and open participation in this important process.”
Jones’ court order also mandates that Georgia adopt a new map creating a majority Black congressional district in west metro Atlanta, a total of four new majority Black House and Senate districts in south metro Atlanta, two new majority Black districts around Macon-Bibb County, and another majority Black House district in west metro Atlanta.
The proposed maps contemplate Senate Republicans drawing new districts to eliminate the metro Atlanta turf of Democratic Sens. Elena Parent and Jason Esteves, who now represent districts consisting of a voting age population that is primarily white. The proposed map places the senators in new districts that have a significant Black population. If the Republican map presented on Monday remains intact, then it appears to safeguard the district lines for Democratic Sen. Valencia Seay of Riverdale and Sen. Marty Harbin, a Republican whose district runs through the more rural counties of Pike, Spalding, Fayette and Lamar.
Jones ruled that Seay’s and Harbin’s districts did not comply with the Voting Rights Act. He also determined that the significant increase in Black populations in Cobb, Fulton, Douglas, and Fayette counties since 2010 was sufficient to create one majority Black congressional district, or at least two predominantly Black districts.
On Wednesday, the Georgia Senate and House chambers are scheduled to conduct floor sessions to consider the new maps at 10 a.m., followed by public committee hearings at 1 p.m. As of Monday, no draft of the House’s proposed maps had been released. The Senate proposed map is available online and written comments can be submitted by the public.
According to Charles Bullock, a political scientist at the University of Georgia and the author of “Redistricting: the Most Political Activity in America,” the proposed Senate map appears to meet the terms set by the federal court for south metro Atlanta.
Bullock noted, however, that the Democrats will have the opportunity to contest the maps before Jones, who must approve the redrawn districts prior to the 2024 election. There is now a 33-to-23 Republican advantage in the state Senate, while Republicans control nine of the 14 congressional seats in the state.
“Sometime after Dec. 8, the plaintiffs can argue before (Jones) that the maps don’t comply,” Bullock said. “The state will have their opportunity to put on evidence saying here’s what we’ve done to follow the judge’s directions.”
Bullock said that redrawn maps are often created with the intent of weakening the reelection bids of strong political opposition. Occasionally, that means balancing tough decisions between members of the same party who have strong leadership potential.
“Sometimes you have to choose who has better long term prospects when you’re cutting a roster,” Bullock said. “It’s like with NFL teams in which everybody has talent but not everyone can stay on the team.”
James Woodall, a former president of the Georgia chapter of the NAACP, lodged criticism on Monday about proposed Senate lines he argues don’t abide by a court order intended to help Black voters elect a larger share of their representatives to the Legislature. Black voters tend to support Democrats at the ballot box.
This map demonstrates that a lot of people don’t want democracy NOR for Black voters to be able to vote effectively for candidates of THEIR choice. Creating safer districts for Democrats DO NOT give Black voters the relief the VRA, nor the court order, prescribes. #GaPol https://t.co/fJ8tBByS8o
— Rev. James “Major” Woodall (@iMajorWish) November 27, 2023
Alicia Hughes, a visiting assistant professor at the Emory University School of Law, said she believes that the redistricting process in Georgia will attract attention beyond the state’s borders. As an example, she pointed to GOP legislators in Alabama who have largely ignored court orders to draw a new congressional district with a majority Black population.
Hughes said it’s typical for the political party in charge to draw district maps that are advantageous to them. However, she said it creates a problem when those boundaries run afoul of voting law to protect the rights of minority voters.
“Looking at the tea leaves in Alabama, the most intelligent thing (legislators) could do is comply with the judge’s order,” said Hughes, the interim executive director of Emory’s Center for Civil Rights and Social Justice. “You don’t want an appointed special master to do your job because you failed to do it yourself.”
Georgia Recorder Deputy Editor Jill Nolin contributed to this report.