Rules don’t require public to have advance look at Georgia redistricting plan

Georgia state lawmakers will use the same the guidelines as in 2010 to redraw congressional, legislative and other electoral districts, meaning lawmakers are not required to give members of the public an advance look at the plans and are not required to consider whether districts give candidates from different political parties a meaningful chance to win.

Identical guidelines were presented to both House and Senate redistricting committees Monday. The House voted to adopt the guidelines, while senators gave preliminary agreement, with a final vote likely on the first day of a special session expected in October or November.

Asked about whether maps would be released in advance, Senate Majority Leader John Kennedy emphasized the shortened time period because of delays in U.S. Census data stemming from COVID-19. In 2010, state legislative maps were unveiled the Friday before the redistricting special session began.

"We’re obviously operating under a very short period of time compared to what they had to this previously," said Kennedy, a Macon Republican.

Advance notice of maps is one of the key objectives that outside groups have been lobbying for.

"Georgians need to have access to the maps and know-how and when the maps will be presented," said Jerry Gonzalez, CEO of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials.

Monday’s guidelines also mean lawmakers are ignoring calls by some advocates to make partisan competitiveness one of the principles for drawing districts.

"We believe that there absolutely can be a significant increase in competitiveness in Georgia," Janet Grant of Fair Districts Georgia told lawmakers Monday. "Georgia is one of the least competitive states in the country in terms of our elections, so there’s a lot of room for improvement. But that is a balancing act with these other factors."

The guidelines say lawmakers have to consider whether they are splitting counties or precincts, although not cities. Lawmakers must also consider whether a district is compact and whether communities of interest are kept whole. But there are no standards the guidelines say lawmakers should meet. The guidelines also say map drawers should avoid drawing incumbents together into the same district when it’s "unnecessary."

For majority Republicans, the process is a chance to shore up their majorities in the 180-member state House and 56-member state Senate, as well as to possibly pry back one or more U.S. House seats in a 14-member delegation now split 8-6 in favor of the GOP.

Several Republicans argued that Democrats would do just the same if they were in control, pointing to Democratic efforts after the 2000 Census to hold on to what were then shrinking majorities in the General Assembly. Those efforts foundered amid a rising tide of GOP sentiment among voters.

"There was no transparency. There were no premeetings across the state," state Sen. Jeff Mullis, a Chickamauga Republican, said of the post-2000 redistricting.

The adoption of guidelines came after a series of public meetings across the state to collect input of drawing districts. A parade of liberal-leaning groups told majority Republicans they were going about redistricting all wrong. Lawmakers also heard particular desires about how people wanted lines to be drawn. But most of the hearings were held before detailed Census data was released, making it harder for people to make detailed proposals about line drawing.

State and local governments must redraw lines for congressional, legislative and other electoral districts once every 10 years following the U.S. Census to balance population. The process helps determine which party will hold power for the following decade.

The state’s overall population rose nearly 10% to 10.7 million people over the decade, but Census results showed uneven growth, with most new residents concentrated in the Atlanta area and around Savannah. Most rural areas lost population.

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