(The Center Square) – Georgia’s Senate Reapportionment and Redistricting Committee approved a new state Senate district map Friday that has received mounting criticism.
The proposed map received an F grade from Princeton analysts, and Democrats said it did not account for all of the majority-minority districts required by law. Republican committee members accused the outside analysts of being partisan and leaning left and fended off all of the other criticism.
“I think it’s the way maps ought to be drawn,” Committee Vice Chair Bill Cowsert, R-Athens, said. “I think we have honored our citizens of our state, and I think we’ve honored the principles that we have by bipartisan agreement.”
Lawmakers must reconstruct the maps every 10 years to correspond with U.S. Census Bureau data. Last year’s census showed Georgia’s population grew by 1 million people from 2010 to 2020. There are 34 Republicans in the Senate and 22 Democrats. There must be 191,284 residents in each district.
The Princeton Gerrymandering Project gave the Republicans’ draft an F grade for fairness and competitiveness. It said the map would give Republicans an election advantage.
The committee map dissolves two districts into others to correspond with two Republicans who are not running for reelection. It shuffles the partisan makeup in some areas and reduces the number of counties split into separate districts. The map that cleared the committee Friday contains 33 districts that likely would elect Republicans and 23 that likely would elect Democrats.
The committee voted 9-4 to approve the Republican plan. Democrats on the committee made a failed attempt Friday to table the proposal.
Senate Minority Leader Gloria Butler, D-Stone Mountain, presented the Senate Democratic Caucus’ proposed map during the committee meeting. It earned an A grade for its fairness and a C grade for its competitiveness from Princeton. The Democrats’ proposal contains 27 districts that likely would elect Republicans, 25 districts that likely would elect Democrats and four competitive districts.
Butler focused her presentation Friday on the Democrats’ map’s ability to ensure majority-minority counties stayed within the same district. The Voting Rights Act safeguards redistricting from discriminatory outcomes and requires states to consider district lines for the majority-minority areas before completing the map.
The Republican-proposed map contains 20 districts where minorities are a majority and 14 districts where Black voters are a majority. Democrats contended Census data shows the state is already “most likely” a majority-minority state.
“As measured by the 2020 Census, Georgia was only 50.1% non-Hispanic white over the last decade, and the decade before that, Georgia’s growth has been driven by Black, Hispanic and Asian Georgians and other Georgians of color,” Butler said. “Every map the [General Assembly] passes in this special session must reflect that reality.”
Butler also said Republicans targeted the only Asian-American woman in the Senate by reducing the minority voting-age population by 15%. However, Butler said she was not prepared to file the Democrat map for consideration Friday.
Cowsert said the Republicans’ map complies with the Voting Rights Act, and it was reviewed by the General Assembly’s legal counsel and created under the advisement of its nonpartisan redistricting and reapportionment office.
Georgia voters also took to the committee meeting at the Capitol on Friday to speak against the proposal during public comment. Despite hosting town halls since June for public input, some residents who spoke Friday said the state should take more time to draft the maps. Lawmakers set Thanksgiving as the deadline to complete the maps under the direction of Gov. Brian Kemp.
“I feel the need to remind you all that you do not work for the governor, and I do not work for the governor,” said Amy Swaggart, who identified herself Friday as a concerned citizen. “You work for the people in this room, the people in this chair. You work for the voters and taxpayers, and the governor works for them.”
The proposal must be approved by the full Senate and House before being sent to the governor.