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Justice dept. OKs new Ga. district maps
States redrawn boundaries clear 1st hurdle toward being used for 2012 election
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The U.S. Department of Justice ruled in favor of Georgia's redrawn voting maps Friday.

The decision means the federal agency does not find objections in standards of the Voting Rights Act for voting districts of state House and Senate and for the U.S. House of Representatives.

"The Justice Department's decision demonstrates that our state's districts serve our diverse population well," Gov. Nathan Deal said in a statement. "The (state) legislature conducted an open and fair process that allowed input from all parts of the state, and the final product reflects legislators' hard work and diligence."

State Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, said there was no surprise in the finding.

"The maps were an exhaustive project over a period of months with input from all parties," he said.

The approval likely means that new districts will be used in the 2012 elections, unless derailed by lawsuits.

State Democrats have pledged to challenge the boundaries in court, contending the maps dilute minority voting strength.

Georgia's history of discrimination at the ballot box means all election changes must pass muster with federal officials to ensure they don't weaken African-American voting power.

Friday's approval marks the first time in history Georgia received administrative approval for voting districts in its first try.

Republicans say the plans increase the number of districts with a majority of black voters.

"They are fair and, not only follow the letter of the law, but also the spirit of the law," Miller said.

While the approval was a clear win for state Republicans who rule the House, Senate and governor's mansion, some in Hall County who have cried foul over the new lines for representing the state House. Their concern is that the county's influence would be reduced since several parts of Hall would be divided into districts that include neighboring counties.

Now only three of the House districts that include Hall will be based only in the county.

Hall County's core delegation remains intact, but the county's western, eastern and southern borders would be divided among three representatives from outside the county.

"To have three more members added to the delegation, which the majority of their districts are made up of people outside of Hall County, I think that causes some concern for Hall County citizens," said former state Rep. James Mills of Gainesville in August.

Mills, now a member of the Pardons and Paroles board, was replaced by newly elected Rep. Emory Dunahoo in a special election.

State Rep. Carl Rogers, R-Gainesville, said it may not be too late to address those concerns. Rogers said he and Hall's other representatives will try to revisit the districts affecting Hall County representation and try to get them changed in Hall's favor.

"We have been working on that," said Rogers. "I have gotten commitments from the House leadership that it would be revisited."

Any more tinkering with the maps would again have to be approved by the Department of Justice.

Miller said he wouldn't have much control over redrawing House's districts. But he said if the House did decide to revise district lines affecting Hall, the Senate likely would support the change.

The new U.S. House map creates an open seat in the new 9th District, which includes all or part of 20 Northeast Georgia counties, including Hall. Doug Collins, Martha Zoller, Hunter Bicknell and Clifton McDuffie have announced intentions to seek the seat.

At the same time the state sought Justice Department approval for the maps, it filed a suit in U.S. District Court to potentially overrule a negative decision.

Deal spokesman Brian Robinson said the lawsuit was a "safety valve" and that the state would drop its suit in federal court if the justice department clears the state's maps.

Associated Press contributed to this report.

 

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