More than half of Georgia voters picked Democrats for U.S. Senate in the last statewide election, but Georgia GOP lawmakers have since drawn new district lines that will probably send nine Republicans and five Democrats to the U.S. House.
It may seem surprising, but that’s how things have long worked.
Here’s what we have so far:
Every 10 years there’s a U.S. Census and every state has to redraw its political districts to keep up with population changes. Every congressional district needs to have an equal population.
In Georgia, the rural population fell and the metro population grew between 2010 and 2020.Data sources: U.S. Census P.L. 94-171 redistricting Data from 2010 and 2020. Download data as .csv
So the state lawmakers in the GOP-controlled Gold Dome downtown have to crack open the map.
It’s possible to equalize the populations with relatively minor adjustments: Expand one rural district by a few counties, and condense an urban district by a city or two.
But that’s not how it happens. From almost the founding of the United States until now, the party in control uses map-making to draw maps to their advantage.
This is that word you’ve heard: gerrymandering. It’s named for Elbridge Gerry, the fifth vice president of the United States.
Here’s how it’s done:
One of the methods is “packing” voters. Traditionally in the Deep South, it’s meant white mapmakers “packing” Black voters into as few districts as possible so that Black voters influence as few districts as possible.
“Cracking” is the opposite: Diluting a Black community’s voting power by drawing lines through it and putting each little segment of Black voters in a mainly white district, guaranteeing that Black voters can’t move the whole district.
Now, the question is whether Georgia’s new congressional map is a gerrymander.
First have a look at the new map versus the current map.
Right now, Georgia is represented by six Democrats and eight Republicans in the U.S. House. The state’s two U.S. Senators are Democrats.
Part of what’s got Democrats mad about the new map is the north metro—Cobb, north Fulton, and Gwinnett. The sixth and seventh districts that U.S. Reps. Lucy McBath and Carolyn Bordeaux turned blue in 2018 and 2020 are shifted beyond recognition.
And here’s what’s also got Democrats (and some Republicans) riled up.
Blue areas closer to Atlanta are drawn in with red areas in the mountains.
Austell Democrats are as likely to vote for Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene (who’s speculated that wildfires are caused by space lasers that are somehow involved with the Rothschilds, among other nonsense) as she is to court them.
That is to say, not at all likely.
All four of the new north Georgia congressional districts would send a Republican to Washington, according to a model from the Princeton Gerrymandering Project.
But the Republican that northwest Georgia sends might not be Greene—it’s possible the new district with its less-red residents could get behind a more centrist Republican.
Greene has been kicked off congressional committees for her conspiratorial leanings and online media suggesting support of assassinating Democrats. She’s sponsored 16 pieces of legislation, including four resolutions to impeach President Joe Biden and one to give a Congressional Gold Medal to Kyle Rittenhouse.
Her behavior literally costs Georgia a seat at the table in Washington. And anybody thinking of governance rather than fame is thinking of that. One can imagine this point coming up among grown-up Republicans back in Atlanta drawing the congressional map—to make life hard for a congresswoman whose behavior is not bringing Georgia any tangible benefits.
But back to the point: Is this map a gerrymander? Is it legal to draw a 9-5 Republican split in a state that’s arguably half blue?
Princeton assigns this map a “C” for fairness and for geographic features. It could be better, it could be worse. The number of county splits is typical; the districts are typically compact.
If there’s any legal challenge to the map, a court would draw on years and years of precedent on gerrymandering cases.
And as Georgia Republicans are fast to point out, some of that legal precedent comes from Georgia itself.
After the 2000 Census, as Democrats saw themselves on the way out of power in Georgia, they drew laughably illegal maps that courts struck down.
As the Republicans see their majority declining in Georgia, there’s temptation to try the same tricks.
One idea to end this cycle is to remove the politics from map-making. Iowa, for example, has long had nonpartisan state staff draw maps. Several other states started following its example lately.
But it hasn’t really worked—where state Legislatures can ignore the staff, they broadly do.
Another idea is to force states to form and listen to independent redistricting commissions. A proposed federal law, the For The People Act of 2021, would make a lot of voting changes, such as making states set up independent redistricting commissions and listen to the commission recommendations.
However, party lines are pretty clear there too on what is a really broad bill. U.S. Senate Republicans basically have no interest in the Act and just one or two Senate Democrats withholding their support has been enough to kill it.The bill did get U.S. House approval in March, but partisanship is real. A total 220 Democrats voted for it, 209 Republicans against it, a near party-line vote.