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What is Redistricting?

Democracy in the United States centers around “one man, one vote.” There have been struggles and redefinitions of what “one man” means over the years. Notably, African Americans were granted the right to vote in 1868, women in 1920, and the subsequent struggles during the civil rights movement that enabled African Americans to actually be able to vote.

Still, to have a representative democracy, the US strives to have representatives represent districts that contain relatively equal numbers of people. Thus, the constitution mandates that every 10 years we have a census. After everyone is counted, new districts are drawn up to reflect the new population densities.

In Georgia, we have 14 US House Congressional Districts. We also have 60 GA Senate seats and 180 GA house seats. None of these numbers changed with the 2020 census results.

What did change was that the population shifted in Georgia, with greater numbers of people now living in and around the Atlanta area, and less in the southern part of the state. Thus, new districts will have to be drawn to reflect these population shifts.

How do we pick who goes where?

Below is a 5 minute video from the Georgia General Assembly about the process.

Several states have non-partisan commissions that draw up new congressional boundaries, but Georgia is not one of them. In Georgia, the political party in power draws up new maps. A special session of the Georgia General Assembly has been called, starting Nov 3, for the express purpose of approving three new maps:

  1. US House Congressional Districts
  2. Georgia House Districts
  3. Georgia Senate Districts

In turn, these districts will then influence boundaries for school board, city council, and other local representation.

Here are the ground rules of redistricting:

  1. Each district must be contiguous; thus, the line around the district must be unbroken.
  2. A district can be drawn to benefit one political party.
  3. A district cannot be drawn minimize the voice or power of a specific racial or ethnic group.

Typically, lawsuits have hinge on two things that minimize people’s voices:

Cracking – where a specific group is spread between multiple districts. In this case, they will receive no representation.

Packing – where a specific group is bunched together into one district. In this case, they will receive not enough representation.

Looking at the graphic – think of each block as a precinct. 60% are blue, 40% are yellow. If they are split like the top left – the yellows are “cracked” and they are spread too thin to be represented by anyone. In the top right, the blues are “packed” together and while they represent 60% of the population, they only are a majority in 2 of the districts. Thus, they are not getting enough representation.

In the past, both the Republican and Democratic parties have drawn maps have been the subject of lawsuits – so no one is guilt free here.

What can you do to check that the districts are “within reason”?

As a citizen of Georgia, you have a say in how districts are formed. You can watch what the General Assembly is doing, you can check non-partisan sites to see how accurately the maps represent the makeup of Georgia, and you can comment on the situation.

  1. Keep an eye on the district maps as the GA General Assembly Releases them.
    1. https://www.legis.ga.gov/
  2. Check these two websites that show if districts reflect the makeup of Georgia.
    1. https://gerrymander.princeton.edu/reforms/GA
    2. https://www.fairdistrictsga.org/
  3. If you disagree, the General Assembly has a FAQ about how to make you voice heard: 
    1. contact your current representative
    2. submit a public comment here: https://www.legis.ga.gov/joint-office/reapportionment/public-comments
    3. Get online or go down to the capitol and voice you opinion. ANYONE can attend a committee meeting and make a public comment. Its even easier now, as many committee meetings will support Zoom commentary.

What does science say about district mapping?

In theory – there is a non-partisan way to draw district lines that accurately represent the population. Check out this great video to hear what the science says.

Updated on October 27, 2021

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