A proposed draft of a new congressional map introduced this week by two top Georgia Republican lawmakers blindsided redistricting activists and politicians, many of whom only learned about the proposal on social media.
Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan and State Sen. John F. Kennedy quietly released the map late Monday night, calling it in a joint prepared statement, “a map that regardless of political party, Georgians can be proud of.”
The proposed map emerged less than a week after Gov. Brian Kemp called for a Nov. 3 special session on redistricting.
“As the legislature begins the process of redistricting, the Senate is committed to continuing the practice of transparency and fairness. In an effort to provide both, the proposed map is being released as soon as practicable,” Duncan and Kennedy’s joint statement added.
Kennedy chairs the 14-member Senate Reapportionment and Redistricting Committee which has jurisdiction over redistricting. Kennedy’s committee colleagues did not respond by press time to emails sent by Atlanta Civic Circle seeking their comments about the map or how they learned about it.
Sources familiar with the situation, though, said the five Democrats on the committee, all of whom are Black, were completely unaware of the map. It’s unclear whether the nine Republicans, all of whom are white, were apprised of it.
Redistricting activists, meanwhile, likened the way Kennedy and Duncan introduced the map to a political ambush.
“They dropped this proposal, literally out of the blue. Everybody caught wind of this on Twitter,” Theron Johnson, Georgia State director for All On The Line, told Atlanta Civic Circle. “One of the most insulting pieces here is that their own colleagues were not consulted… at all.”
All On The Line is part of a national campaign created by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to improve the political and voting process, including redistricting.
Holder blasted the release of the map, saying it “completely disrespects Georgians” and is “born of arrogance and political greed.”
Redistricting activist Karuna Ramchandran told Atlanta Civic Circle she felt dumbfounded by the way the map was announced.
“I was absolutely blindsided by this. We were shocked to see it on Twitter,” said Ramchandran who learned about it earlier this week when a colleague texted the Tweet to her. Ramchandran is campaign manager of the Georgia Redistricting Alliance.
A spokeswoman for one group that has been pushing for early delivery of the maps said she was “pleasantly surprised” by the release.
“We look forward to receiving the other two as well so that we have time for meaningful public review,” Cuffy Sullivan of Fair Districts Ga. told Atlanta Civic Circle.
Sullivan, Fair Districts’ communication chair, declined to discuss the map. Fair Districts is analyzing it with the Princeton Gerrymandering Project.
“Until we crunch the numbers we don’t have much to say,” Sullivan said. “We hope to have the numbers crunched by the end of the week.”
In the meantime, activists like Ramchandran said this week’s announcement “is more of the same from the redistricting committees.”
“They’re saying they have a process. They’re reviewing maps. They want public input,” Ramchandran said. “But actually what’s happening is that advocates like our members are scrambling to figure out what this all means. So when a member of the public is just seeing these maps, what are they supposed to think? Are they supposed to look at that map and say ‘well, I don’t see any funny districts. So it should be okay’.”
Ramchandran believes the intent is to “put out a picture that looks okay on the surface. But what we know is that you have some issues with communities of color being packed and cracked in different districts. The public can’t fully understand that unless we’re given all the information and we’re given [advance] notice.”
Packing is the practice of putting certain voters into one district which ensures that an elected official or a certain party continues to be re-elected again and again. It also reduces that party’s power and influence in other districts. Cracking involves spreading a particular group of voters throughout different areas to dilute their voting power. You can learn more about these practices below.
The redistricting committee, Ramchandran said, continues to dole out information and programs on the spur of the moment or last-minute or without warning. She cited an incident a few weeks ago when redistricting guidelines were released with no prior notice and little change from the previous process a decade ago.
“We’ve been asking for a process,” she said. And what they’re giving us is not a process.”
Ramchandran said she’s concerned that the map is coming solely from Duncan and Kennedy.
“There’s no indication the members of the actual redistricting committee are a part of this at all,” she said.
While the release of the map is intended to be seen as a “good thing” that gives people plenty of time for input, Ramchandran isn’t so convinced.
“I could give my input until I’m blue in the face, which happened over and over again over the summer but they didn’t incorporate any of that input into their process,” she said.
Voting rights groups and others were in an uproar recently after new redistricting guidelines were released showing little change from 10 years ago.
“If we give them our analysis and our concerns about this map, are they going to make changes?”
WHAT THE NEW MAP SHOWS
Initial analysis of the Duncan-Kennedy map by All On The Line shows:
- Metro Atlanta will see even more “packed” areas. For instance, District 13, a majority-black district carved out of parts of Cobb, Clayton, Douglas, Fayette, Fulton and Henry counties, becomes even more concentrated with voters of color. In addition to district 13, Black voters in Metro Atlanta will continue to be concentrated in districts 4 and 5, Johnson said.
- The Congressional 6th District becomes a solidly Republican District, putting U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, a Democrat, in jeopardy. Under the proposed map, the 6th District would mostly be Cobb and Forsyth Counties. DeKalb County would no longer be in the district. “Congresswoman McBath’s district was taken completely out of DeKalb County, where you have a majority of minority communities, and instead takes up all of heavily-Republican Forsyth County,” Johnson said.
- While the 7th District appears to become a little more Democratic, U.S. Rep Carolyn Bourdeaux appears to have been drawn out of her district. Under federal law, a Congressperson does not have to live in the district he or she represents.
- District 2 adds more areas that are Whiter and more Republican, dropping the percentage of black voters below 50 percent. The district would include all of Muscogee County and part of Harris well as the more heavily- Republican and Whiter communities in Houston County, around Warner Robins. The district has been represented since 1993 by Sanford Bishop a Black Democratic Congressman.
“This map does not give Georgians the fair representation or the fair maps they deserve,” Johnson said.