ATLANTA — Georgia legislators took the first step toward redrawing the state's legislative and congressional district boundaries in an August special session.
Now state leaders are seeking to clear the next hurdle by filing a lawsuit in federal court seeking approval of the new maps for the U.S. House and state House and Senate.
Gov. Nathan Deal and Attorney General Sam Olens announced Thursday that the state is seeking preclearance from U.S. District Court but is also submitting the plans to the U.S. Department of Justice.
Under the Voting Rights Act, Georgia must receive federal approval for all election-related changes because of its past history of discrimination at the ballot box. As a result, the state's redistricting efforts have faced legal challenges in the past.
Deal and Olens expressed confidence on Thursday that the maps would receive the needed federal approvals.
"These plans were carefully drawn by the General Assembly to ensure that Georgia's growing population is fairly represented, and we are confident that they meet the requirements for federal approval," the Republicans said in a joint statement.
Hall County's state senator agreed.
"I think the chances are very strong," said Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville. "It was a very open and accessible process. With any process, there's a chance you will not make everyone happy. But as a whole, the maps, particularly on the Senate side, were very well-received and well-represent the constituents of Georgia.
"I'm very confident that the maps will prevail. Not only were the maps drawn with the letter of the law but also the spirit of the law in mind."
The state also plans to submit the maps to the U.S. Department of Justice and said if the Obama
administration approves the political boundaries it will drop the lawsuit. It's a strategy, they say, that was also employed by Louisiana, Virginia and Alabama.
Democrats contend the maps rip apart their party's successful efforts to forge multiracial coalitions and resegregate the state by trying to make it harder for white Democrats to win re-election.
State Sen. Jason Carter, a Democrat, said the maps fail to protect minority voters' ability to elect their candidates of choice.
"If that's a concern of the Justice Department, and I suspect it is, they will not approve these maps," Carter said.
They're expected to challenge the maps in court if they pass federal muster.
"If the Justice Department chooses to approve these racially polarizing maps then we will avail ourselves of the justice system and the legal options available to us," House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams said.
Democrats have been emboldened by a recent Justice Department filing in federal court, which argued redrawn Texas maps for state House and congressional districts do not meet federal anti-discrimination requirements.
The filing said the Texas maps fail to maintain or increase the ability of minority voters to elect their candidate of choice.
Georgia Republicans, who are controlling redistricting for the first time in the state, have said their maps comply with the Voting Rights Act.They note that they have added more districts with a majority of black residents, such as the 2nd congressional district, now held by U.S, Rep, Sanford Bishop, in southwest Georgia.
Lawmakers must retool political boundaries every 10 years to conform to new U.S. Census data.
This year, the state's growing population earned it a 14th U.S. House seat, which lawmakers placed in the northeast corner of the state, including Hall County.
Georgia's new maps passed the state House and Senate and have been signed by Deal. They do not take effect until they receive federal preclearance.
Associated Press writer Shannon McCaffrey contributed to this story.