The redrawing of two state House districts in Hall County could create a perception that boundaries are being manipulated for gain, but elected officials deny this.
“All I gained, basically, was chickens and cattle ...” said Rep. Emory Dunahoo, a Gainesville Republican who serves as the District 30 representative in the Georgia legislature.
The changes are being made to bring a farm property Dunahoo’s family owns within his district, he said. The property had been located just outside its boundaries in District 27, represented by Rep. Lee Hawkins, R-Gainesville.
The new District 30 boundary will extend to the North Oconee River, Dunahoo said, to encompass his property near Bryant Quarter Road in East Hall.
“That way, legally, it will still be my district,” Dunahoo said.
There are close to 53,800 residents in District 30, with more than 39,000 of voting age. About 7.7 percent of the voting age population is of African-American or mixed race, and more than 20 percent are Hispanic or Latino.
There are about 53,300 residents in District 27, with more than 39,000 of voting age. About 3.35 percent of the voting age population in this district are of African-American or mixed race, and more than 11 percent are Hispanic or Latino.
Dunahoo said the district changes amount to a land swap.
Hawkins said it could impact upward of a couple thousand residents in East Hall, and that he tried to ensure that as few voters as possible were affected by the changes to keep the constituent base for each district mostly intact.
But Hawkins’s district would only gain an additional three dozen or so voters with the changes, Dunahoo said.
“Everybody wanted to make sure everything was fair,” he added.
Hall County Elections Director Charlotte Sosebee could not confirm those numbers.
“I am not sure, but that is possible,” she said.
Finalizing the redrawing of the districts is likely to be completed by the end of the month, Sosebee said.
“Our office will begin making changes to all voters who are affected by this implementation,” she added. “Once we have made the changes, those voters will receive a new registration card by mail.”
The first impact of the changes will take place in the 2016 election cycle.
Dunahoo said he understood that some people will look at the changes as a manipulation of voting boundaries.
“Somebody’s going to read this and say, ‘Uh-oh, special privilege,” he said. “We were trying to do it low-key so that we didn’t have that certain group of people think, ‘Oh, there they go, trying to better themselves’ … there’s no intention of that.”
Charles Bullock, a political science professor at the University of Georgia, said the voting public often looks at changes to legislative districts with a skeptical eye, particularly when a politician seems to benefit in an obvious way.
“If you’re talking about moving several thousand voters … now that might be a problem,” he said.
Bullock also said it is not uncommon, for example, for lawmakers to redraw the lines of their districts to incorporate properties they or family members own. And sometimes it is done for rather innocuous reasons, such as cleaning up boundaries that appear jagged on district maps.