Redistricting an 'existential crisis' for Georgia Republicans, expert says

Members of the House and Senate reapportionment committees held their first in-person hearing at the Georgia Capitol Monday evening.

Once each decade, state lawmakers must redraw district lines for the U.S. House of Representatives, the Georgia House of Representatives and the Georgia State Senate based on new U.S. Census data.

"The first thing that everyone should know is that this process is basically as old as the republic," explained Kennesaw State University Assistant Political Science Professor Benjamin Taylor.

The process has also long been one politicians use to try to help their political party get ahead, Taylor said.  

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"It's called a 'gerrymander' because it happened in Massachusetts in the early part of the 19th century. Elbridge Gerry redrew district lines in Massachusetts to favor his party, the Anti-Federalists and so, that's where we got the name," said Taylor. "So, the idea that this is political is not new.  It is, in fact, distinctly political."  

The committees are scheduled to hold a series of public hearings around the state and will then draw up proposed maps. The state legislature will hold a special session to review the proposals and make any changes.  Republicans have a comfortable majority in the Georgia General Assembly and will largely be able to choose the districts they want.  

Taylor said that is critical as the party tries to keep control after narrow statewide wins for Democrats in the 2020 Presidential election and the two U.S. Senate runoffs in January.  

"This makes redistricting an existential crisis for Republican dominance of Georgia politics," said Taylor.  "It's definitely the case that Republicans are going to take this an existential moment because there are two congressional seats that have historically been Republican--the Georgia 6th and Georgia 7th with Lucy McBath and Carolyn Bordeaux--those two seats probably just based on demographic change and population movement, it's very difficult to imagine both of those seats being drawn in a way to make them more Republican, but at least one of them is probably going to be drawn in a way that makes it much more likely to be a Republican in 2022."  

Though Taylor points out that the process plays out the same way across the country regardless of which party is in power.

"That's the reality for us in Georgia that Republicans have this opportunity to sort of make themselves have better political opportunities, but if you live in Massachusetts I'm sure and you're a Republican, you feel like, 'Aw, it's the Democrats ruining everything.'"  

He encourages people to get involved in the process, no matter their political affiliation.  

"The answer to almost any political problem in the U.S. is more citizen engagement," said Taylor.  "So, if you're upset, be involved.  If you're happy, still be involved and that'll make everything better."  

This year's redistricting process was delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but depending on when the Census Bureau gives state leaders the final data, they plan to hold a special session to approve redistricting maps this fall.

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