New federal census data show Georgians are more ethnically and racially diverse and live mostly in and around large cities like Atlanta, Savannah and Macon.

The data is key in reshaping Georgia’s political landscape and determining the outcome of future elections. Georgia lawmakers and cartographers will use the data this fall to create new political districts based on the state’s heavily shifted demographics.

That prospect has voting rights and groups advocating for fair and equitable redistricting worried. They fear the new data along with the shortened redistricting process — a result of the delayed census data due to the pandemic and schedule changes — could lead to map manipulations and make gerrymandering more likely. Gerrymandering is a tactic used to establish an unfair political advantage for a particular party or group by manipulating the boundaries of electoral districts.

This round of redistricting will be the first to occur without the preclearance provision of the federal Voting Rights Act. That provision required Georgia and eight other southern states to get approval from the federal government to make changes in their elections process. Without the preclearance provision, the federal government is limited in its ability to intervene to prevent such tactics as map manipulation, political observers say. In 2019, the Supreme Court also ruled partisan gerrymandering was beyond the reach of the federal court.

Redistricting has become such a pressing concern that both political parties have created organizations to favorably position their respective parties for this round of redistricting. The groups are The National Democratic Redistricting Committee and The National Republican Redistricting Trust. 

Redistricting is a big concern in Georgia where Democrat Joe Biden squeaked by former Pres. Donald Trump to become president and voters sent a Black and Jewish candidate to represent them in the U.S. Senate.

“Georgia now is as diverse as we have always seen it to be,” Hillary Holley, organizing director for Fair Fight Action, told Atlanta Civic Circle.  “And the data proves that we might see the attempt to gerrymander in a new way that we have not seen before in Georgia. We are going to see them try to draw these maps in a very discriminatory way, and I think that we are going to see them try to do it very, very fast. We might see them not try to do it very transparently, as well.”

The redistricting process can get politically “ugly.” Holley added.

“They can literally just carve out certain houses on certain streets and it’s very granular. It can bring out some of the ugliest parts of politics where they literally pick communities apart, just for their own benefit. So we’re going to have to fight really hard.” 

Holley spoke at “How to Fight Back Against Voter Suppression,” a virtual presentation held last week by The National Center for Civil and Human Rights. Fair Fight is a voting-rights group formed by Stacey Abrams, a veteran Georgia politician who ran unsuccessfully for governor in 2018. 

The new census data shows:

  • Whites are just over half of the state’s residents. Non-Hispanic Whites are 51.9 percent of the state’s population, down from 59.7 percent in 2010.
  • Other ethnic groups grew. African-Americans now account for one in three Georgians, up from 31.5 percent a decade ago. Hispanics now are 10.5 percent of the population, up from 8.8 percent while Asians now are 5.8 percent of the population.
  • Georgia is shifting away from its rural roots in favor of more urban living. Eight of the 10 counties with the greatest numeric population growth in the state during the past decade were in metro Atlanta, according to the nonpartisan Redistricting Data Hub.The 10 counties with the least numeric population growth or decline were all in rural areas, RDH found.

Well before the release of last week’s census numbers, groups like All On The Line have targeted nine states, including Georgia, to combat any prospects of gerrymandering. Other groups have launched redistricting boot camps to help citizens understand what for many can be a confusing process. 

Critics say attempts at map-manipulation have already begun:

  • In North Carolina, map drawers released draft guidelines for map criteria less than a day before the only public hearing on the criteria. The hearing got little advanced notice, wasn’t virtual and people had a hard time signing up to speak at the hearing.
  • In Michigan, the state’s independent redistricting commission is close to hiring a law firm that redistricting expert David Dailey said is known for “defending some of the most egregious GOP gerrymanders of the last decade.”

Historically, gerrymandering has occurred when either political party is in control. It is not done solely by one specific political party.

“The redistricting process is probably one of, if not the most important thing, that we are going to have to deal with this fall when it comes to our democracy,” Holley said. ”We are close to seeing what minority control could look like and a lot of times minority control can be very frightening, We’ve seen it in other countries before where you see factions doing everything they can to hold onto power but I see this year as an opportunity.”

The official 2020 redistricting data is now available to download in all 50 states on the Redistricting Data Hub website.

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