Gerrymandering in Georgia
How has gerrymandering affected Georgia?
The Georgia Constitution mandates that our legislature undertake redistricting every 10 years following the national Census. It also allows for annual redistricting which means GA lawmakers can change district lines during any legislative session. Georgia lawmakers of both political parties have used these opportunities to engage in creative mapmaking to protect incumbents or weaken political opponents. Andrew Young, Newt Gingrich, and John Barrow were all purposely drawn out of their home districts during their respective bids for Congress. Most recently, in 2015, GOP legislators changed district lines for House Districts 105 and 111 to protect two Republican incumbent representatives who barely won re-election the year before. An attempt to do the same in 2017 in other districts was ultimately shelved thanks to intense public scrutiny.
The recent rise of sophisticated mapping technology has made gerrymandering easier and more effective than ever. In 2016, Georgia’s legislative races were the least competitive in the country with 81% of legislative seats going uncontested as a result of partisan gerrymandering.
Non-competitive, “safe” districts not only rob voters of their Constitutional right to elect their own representatives, they cause complacency among lawmakers and lessen the need for elected officials to represent the will of their constituents. Lawmakers have no incentive to work toward bipartisan solutions and representatives with extreme views have an easier time getting elected. Lack of bipartisan collaboration ultimately leads to inefficient and ineffective government.
Gerrymandered districts are also a powerful tool to reduce the power of minority communities. While racial gerrymandering is illegal, minority communities are often "packed" into minority majority districts, but don’t always receive the benefit of minority leadership when leaders of color are targeted and discouraged from running. Communities of color can also be “cracked,” or broken up into multiple districts, to diffuse their voting power.
What can be done to prevent gerrymandering in Georgia?
There are two ways to change our redistricting process: legal and legislative. While racial gerrymandering is against the law, partisan gerrymandering is legal and rampant. Recently, the United States Supreme Court heard several cases challenging the Constitutionality of several state redistricting plans on the basis of partisanship. The Supreme Court is expected to issue its opinion on some of these cases in 2018. If the Court rules that partisan gerrymandering is indeed unconstitutional, it will have a significant impact how states draw their maps in the future as they could no longer engage in extreme partisan gerrymandering without significant legal challenges.
At the same time, Georgia can strengthen its current redistricting process with specific legislation. Our current redistricting process gives lawmakers broad leeway in drawing district lines. Georgia could also pass a Constitutional amendment to create an independent nonpartisan redistricting commission that takes redistricting out of the hands of the partisan legislature and into an independent committee. Twenty states have created such committees which have resulted in more competitive elections. The legislature can also pass stronger redistricting guidelines that require a fair, nonpartisan, transparent and accountable process. Both of these legislative solutions have been introduced in the Georgia House and Senate, but have yet to come to a vote in their respective redistricting committees. Fair Districts GA supports both of these legislative solutions to improve our redistricting process, but believes the ultimate solution lies in an independent redistricting commission.
My representative is not sure about an independent redistricting committee. They believe it will still be a partisan process. How do I address this concern?
No system is perfect, but making sure the process is run by people who do not have a professional stake in the results and that all parties are represented equally is far better than what we currently have. District maps that have been created by independent redistricting commissions have resulted in more competitive districts than those that are created by state legislatures.
What can I do to help?
Because the GA legislature has no compelling reason to change the process, redistricting reform will only happen when politicians realize that citizens are paying close attention and demanding meaningful reform. Your efforts will not only have an impact, it is the only way foreseeable way that reform will happen.
Visit our Get Involved page to find out how you can help further the cause.