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Georgia lawmakers convene for special redistricting session

Republicans wield the power to redraw the Peach State’s political lines based on new census numbers.

ATLANTA (CN) — Georgia lawmakers reconvened at the state Capitol in Atlanta on Wednesday to begin the once-a-decade task of redrawing the state’s political maps based on new census numbers that reflect a shift in population away from rural areas and into cities.

The Legislature must redraw electoral districts every 10 years to ensure each district has equal representation. With the addition of more than 1 million new residents in the Peach State since 2010 – many of them clustered in the state’s urban areas – the Georgia General Assembly faces the daunting task of drafting electoral districts to align with population data gathered in the 2020 census.

Although Georgia has become a battleground state with voters almost evenly split between the two political parties, Republicans control 58% of the seats in the state’s General Assembly. They will wield considerable power over the approval process to redistrict the state’s congressional delegation and state Senate and House seats.

Republicans have a 103-76 majority in the state House and a 34-22 majority in the Senate.

The special session marks the first time in decades that Georgia lawmakers won’t have to get the federal government's blessing on their proposed maps. The U.S. Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling in Shelby County v. Holder struck down a portion of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 which required that nine states, including Georgia, had to get federal approval of their new political maps to ensure the changes would not negatively impact the voting power of minority racial groups.

Republicans will likely use the session to solidify their majorities in the Legislature and in congressional districts, where they hold eight of Georgia’s 14 seats. Democrats, meanwhile, are looking for a chance to even the score.

But the fight for control over where the districts are drawn won’t just be fought along party lines.

The surge in population in the traditionally Democratic strongholds of Savannah and metro Atlanta has created a new obstacle for Republican lawmakers who represent rural areas where population has declined.

According to the census data, 67 of Georgia’s 159 counties lost population in the past decade.

Gwinnett, Fulton, Forsyth and Cobb counties – the counties which, along with DeKalb, comprise the metro Atlanta area – have seen the most growth.

Rural southwest Georgia is all but guaranteed to lose a few legislative seats to metro Atlanta, causing consolidation of some GOP-held House and Senate districts.

Republican legislative leaders on Tuesday released drafts of proposed maps for the Senate and House chambers that eliminate some of those rural districts. Both proposals move districts from southern Georgia to the northwest toward Atlanta and enlarge some rural districts.

A preliminary analysis of the House Republican plan performed by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution based on estimated 2020 presidential votes in the proposed districts found that the map would create 97 districts that would lean Republican and 83 that would lean Democratic.

A similar analysis of the Senate Republican map found that it creates 33 districts that lean Republican and 23 that favor Democrats.

Already, the proposal eliminates GOP state Senator Tyler Harper’s south Georgia district and moves it to Gwinnett County to account for population decline. Republican Senator Bruce Thompson’s district in Cherokee and Bartow counties would also be moved to the metro Atlanta area in north Fulton County to help bolster GOP incumbents in that area.

The map would also add a new district in Gwinnett County and in Sandy Springs, just north of Atlanta.

Although their contributions are unlikely to receive serious consideration, Democrats released their own map on Friday that redraws House districts in a manner they say would improve representation of urban and suburban residents and nonwhite Georgia voters.

A proposed Senate map released by the Georgia Senate Democratic Caucus contains 22 districts in which racial minorities are a majority of residents and a majority of the voting age population.

The party claims the map “more fairly represents the partisan makeup of Georgia’s electorate” by establishing 25 Democrat-leaning districts, 27 districts that will likely elect Republicans and four “competitive” districts.

In a statement, Democrats said their proposed map demonstrates the party’s “commitment to a fair, transparent, and inclusive redistricting effort.”

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