The process of redrawing Georgia’s political districts opened Wednesday with the Republican-controlled Georgia Senate proposing a map that would help them retain control.

Thirty-four Republicans and 22 Democrats currently sit in the Georgia State Senate, and they’re in charge of updating district maps to keep their constituencies equal as the state’s population grows.

The GOP-proposed Senate map does keep up with population changes but not partisan changes.

An analysis by the nonpartisan Princeton Gerrymandering Project suggests the map proposed by the state Senate GOP would yield 33 Republican districts and 23 Democratic ones. Under the proposed map, the Georgia Senate would likely be about 59 percent Republican in a state that is not as red as it once was. Georgia voters sent democrat senators Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff to Washington, D.C., earlier this year. Three years ago, Stacey Abrams came within 1.5 percentage points of being Georgia’s first Democrat in the Governor’s Mansion in decades.

Meanwhile, the Georgia House is about 57 percent Republican, with 103 Republicans, 76 Democrats, and one vacancy. The proposed map authored by House Republicans would probably return 98 Republicans and 82 Democrats, Princeton says. But both parties would be expected to be within 3.5 points of a win in nine “competitive” districts. So by the college’s math, the Georgia House could be expected to max out at about 54 percent Republican districts under maps proposed by the state House GOP.

All 236 state legislators are up for election next year.

Current party splitGOP proposed maps
Georgia House103 R, 76 D, 1 vacant98 R, 82 D (but nine seats would be competitive)
Georgia Senate34 R, 22 D33 R, 23 D

Source: Princeton Gerrymandering Project

“What we’re seeing now is just ideas,” Charles Bullock, Distinguished University Professor of Public and International Affairs at the University of Georgia, told Atlanta Civic Circle. “You really are trying to draw a map that will work for your party for a decade. You’re trying to anticipate what the population is going to be like, what the voting trends are going to be like in 2030.”

Bullock is a leading authority on redistricting. He has been tracking the once-a-decade political task since 1970 and has written a book on the subject.

He’s seen the process morph from politicians and map drawers with colored pencils hovering over large maps splayed on tables to tech-savvy map drawers shape-shifting “literally hundreds of iterations” of maps on computers.

“In Georgia, we’ve got a trifecta, with Republicans controlling all three of the hands who get involved in drawing the maps,” said Bullock. “You know the majority party is going to continue to be the majority.”

He’s seen it get nasty in both political parties.

“Twenty years ago, Democrats got real greedy and tried to actually grow their majority—at that point it was shifting red—and it blew up against them.”

Bullock said sometimes the more strategic move is to cede some ground to the opposing party. He expects Republicans to do that this cycle. “So for the state House,” Bullock said. “It’s not surprising that Republicans would be willing to cede some ground to Democrats.”

For example, Republicans may decide to give up some of the areas they’ve had a hard time holding onto, Bullock said. They could carve those reliably Republican voters out of one district and put them in another to make the new district more Republican and thus easier to hang onto.

Bullock compared the process to the waning minutes of a hard-fought football game: “You’re willing to give up short passes in order to guard against having a long bomb thrown which defeats you. So you let them complete the pass for four yards, five yards.”

Republicans may cede some control in parts of north metro Atlanta—parts of Gwinnett, Cobb, and North Fulton—where they have already lost some ground. And instead of trying to claw back Georgia’s 6th and 7th Congressional districts, they may just focus on one and  “and write [the other] off.” 

This is just the start of the process that Bullock predicts will take state lawmakers less time to finish than the estimated Thanksgiving timetable.

In the end, Bullock said, there are two rounds to redistricting: “The first round plays out in the legislature; the second round plays out in the courts.”

WHAT TO WATCH FOR:

Republican maps. “The maps that are going to get adopted are going to be the ones done by Republicans. Democrats are going to be the losers,” Bullock said. “They’re not going to get the maps they would like.” The Democrats’ maps will likely be used in legal challenges, he said.  

A possible tug-of-war over the congressional map. “Where you may find some interplay and push and pulls between the two chambers will be when it comes to drawing the Congressional map,” Bullock said.

Wily legislators. Is there a legislator in the House trying to draw a Senate map that would allow that House member to move to the Senate? Are there any legislators trying to shift the direction of a congressional district to make it something they might be able to run in? 

BULLOCK’S FIVE REDISTRICTING COMMANDMENTS

All districts are to be created equal. “The first thing that has to be done is to equalize the population,” Bullock said. All districts must have as close to the same number of people in them as possible. One person, one vote. It’s required by the U.S. Constitution.

Don’t discriminate against minorities. If you’re waffling on this issue, check the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The landmark legislation bans racial discrimination in voting.

Districts must be contiguous. “You wouldn’t take an area out of Atlanta, an area out of Savannah, and an area out of Augusta and say Well, we’re going to call this a district,” Bullock said.

Districts should be compact. They should neatly fit together, Bullock said, “as opposed to having strange shapes—arms, legs, necks, whatever.” 
Honor county and city boundaries. “Counties are much more important, generally, in Georgia and Georgia political history than cities,” Bullock noted. “So that probably takes  the top priority.”

Stay informed about Georgia’s Redistricting proceedings in the House and the Senate.

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