By Tim Darnell, Staff Writer and Dave Williams |Capitol Beat News Service
ATLANTA - Georgia’s redistricting process took a major step forward Tuesday, as the Republican-controlled state Senate adopted a new map that redrew that chamber’s legislative lines for the next decade.
Shortly before Tuesday’s 34-21 Senate vote, which occurred along party lines the Georgia House Legislative & Congressional Reapportionment Committee cleared its new House map for action on the House floor as early as Wednesday.
Lawmakers are meeting under the Gold Dome to redraw legislative and congressional districts in accordance with the latest U.S. Census data. The Senate map is the first to gain passage by the full chamber.
With Republicans holding majorities in the House and Senate, both maps were drawn by GOP legislative leaders. Democrats continued to complain the Republican-led map-drawing processes have been rushed and have not allowed sufficient public input.
“This has not been the fair process Georgia deserves,” said state Sen. Elena Parent, D-Atlanta. “This map was released the night before this special session began, as municipal polls were closing throughout Georgia and as the Atlanta Braves were playing in the World Series.
“This map was released when no one was looking. There has not been sufficient time to comment on these maps.”
State Sen. John Kennedy, R-Macon, who chairs the Senate Reapportionment and Redistricting Committee, continued to stress the map was thoroughly vetted by his committee and complies with federal voting laws and regulations.
Kennedy said the Senate map was the product of weeks of public hearings across Georgia, but he conceded the process of creating the new maps has been compressed because 2020 Census data wasn’t released until August.
The Peach State grew during the last decade by about 1 million to 10.7 million, primarily the result of increasing numbers of minority residents.
An independent analysis has predicted Democrats likely would gain one seat under the proposed map. Republicans currently hold 34 Senate seats, to 22 for the Democrats.
Democrats and members of civil rights and voting rights groups have argued Democrats could gain more seats if Republicans were willing to pass a fairer map that takes minority population growth into account.
But state Sen. John Albers, R-Roswell, said Democrats weren’t willing to pass fair maps when their party was in control of the General Assembly. He pointed to heavily gerrymandered 2001 maps drawn by a then-Democratic majority, which a federal court subsequently ruled an unconstitutional violation of the Voting Rights Act.
In the House, the committee in charge of redistricting passed a map proposed by Republican leaders along party lines Tuesday, sending it to the House floor for a vote.
As in the Senate, Democrats raised the timing issue, arguing the substitute version of the House map the committee passed wasn’t introduced until Monday.
“I do not feel we have given the people enough time to review these maps,” said Rep. Sandra Scott, D-Rex.
But Rep. Bonnie Rich, R-Suwanee, the committee’s chairman, said the committee has taken into account the hundreds of comments Georgians have made about the House map on an online portal as well as testimony from two days of hearings this week.
Rich said redrawing district boundaries to satisfy the public and individual lawmakers while meeting guidelines set by the committee, general redistricting principles such as keep cities and counties together and complying with the federal Voting Rights Act is challenging.
She compared it to solving a Rubik’s Cube puzzle.
“It’s difficult if not impossible to take one or two districts in a vacuum,” Rich said. “We have a job … to draw a map that complies with the law.”
This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.