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Critics accuse Georgia senate of gerrymandering new district maps

Voter rights groups say suggested redistricting hurts people of color.

ATLANTA — Proposed new senate districts are designed to diminish the influence of voters of color, according to critics of a new state senate map released Tuesday night.

The map redraws districts to reflect the 2020 census – but critics say it also shows political desires.  

Lawmakers have been talking about new legislative maps at the state capitol since last year, when the 2020 census was conducted. The maps reflect shifts in population over the last decade, including trends migrating toward urban areas and away from rural areas.

Thursday, the public finally got to comment on a newly drawn map for the first time.

Credit: GA legislative and congressional reapportionment office
Proposed 2021 GOP state senate map

"The Princeton (Gerrymandering Project) grades the senate committee map as an 'F,'" Janet Grant of Fair Districts Georgia told the senate reapportionment committee.

Critics accused the Republican majority of gerrymandering, adding GOP leaders were drawing maps shaped to maintain their margin and to diminish strength of voters of color, who have increased their numbers statewide in the last decade.

"These maps take from us some of our choices. They diminish, for many of us, some of our opportunities," Cookie Varney of the League of Women Voters said during the hearing.

The Republican senate map has 36 districts out of 56 that are majority white. Republicans defended it, saying race was only part of the formula they used when drawing the map.

"We’re trying to get areas that are compact, contiguous, and are communities of interest together, regardless of their race – unless they’re protected by law," said Sen. Bill Cowsert (R-Athens), the chairman of the state senate Republican caucus.

A nonpartisan analysis of the new map by a group called Fair Districts Georgia shows exactly one senate district out of 56 is competitive between Democrats and Republicans.

"People of color now make up half the population of this state and therefore they should make up at least half the Georgia assembly," said Stephanie Ali of the New Georgia Project. "Any map that does not reflect that, it might be legal but it is not ethical."

Critics also say they expected Republicans to try to use the redistricting process to maximize their majority in the legislature.

"They have the incentive and they have the means to do it. And from a historical point of view, both parties have done it. So this is standard procedure when it comes to redistricting," said Ken Lawler of Fair Districts Georgia.

The Republicans aim to act quickly. The chairman of the senate reapportionment committee said he expected the GOP-majority committee to take a vote on its map as early as Friday.

The legislature is expected to be in special session through November, and must approve maps redrawn for state House and congressional districts as well.

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