I’ve been out of town for a week, so I’m behind on the news a bit. Here’s what I noticed on the days I was here.
Hall County’s new commission districts got the governor’s signature Thursday. These are the last of the local voting districts to get the state’s stamp of approval.
The re-jiggered lines are a requirement after every decennial census, equalizing local representation with new population numbers.
It sounds boring, right? Well, no, not exactly, especially if you want to run for one of the commission’s seats this year and need to know if you are eligible.
What’s of particular interest in this case is that the governor signed the maps — and the county submitted them to the U.S. Department of Justice — on March 29.
The governor’s signature on a local redistricting proposal before the Justice Department carries about the same weight as your signature on a check (remember those?); it’s necessary.
Now that it has all the information it needs — i.e. the governor’s signature — the Justice Department has 60 days to decide whether the commission boundaries meet the requirements of federal voting rights laws.
Qualifying for that election is May 23-25. I’m not good at math, so I’ll let you do it, but I’ll venture a guess that the county cut it close.
No one really believes that the districts won’t be approved by the time candidates have to qualify. But it’s certainly a possibility.
And this last-minute send-off is curious to me, because the commission approved the district boundaries back in January.
State lawmakers, on the other hand, didn’t begin officially considering the boundaries until March 12.
County Administrator Randy Knighton says that since the commission approved the districts in January, the county has been actively working with the Justice Department on the maps.
He said the county hoped it could first seek Justice Department approval, then get the stamp of state lawmakers.
Since the Justice Department has already seen the county’s maps, Knighton also seems fairly confident that the maps won’t face a DOJ challenge.
(I’m going to stop here, and say that I wouldn’t normally use a government employee in a column about politics, but when I reached out to the commissioners on this issue, most said "ask Randy," so I did.) Rep. Carl Rogers, dean of the Hall County delegation of legislators, said he got the district map from the county about three or four weeks ago, noting that the county’s submission was the “latest of them all.”
If the county’s submission to the Justice Department is too late, it’s likely that commissioners up for election this year would run from their districts as they are currently drawn.
No one that I talked to Thursday seemed alarmed by the timing. Not Rogers, not Knighton, not the Governor’s Office.
The governor’s chief spokesman, Brian Robinson, sums the issue up like this: “It won’t be an issue,” Robinson said in an email. “There’s nothing to set off alarms for DOJ.”
I assume they know better than me.
In other news, Gov. Nathan Deal appointed Rep. Roger Lane to fill the void of judge Amanda Williams in Glynn County.
Lane, until Thursday, was the head of the House Reapportionment Committee. He ushered through revisions to the Georgia House boundaries in Hall County, the governor’s current home, when few other districts got a second look — and a number cried foul — this year.
Deal’s spokesman, Robinson, says there’s no connection between the two events.
All other districts, including the ones in Hall, were redrawn in a special session last August.
Those districts were all precleared by the Justice Department in December. In a speech in the House on Thursday afternoon, Deal mentioned the appointment, saying “I needed him. Roger’s going to be a great superior court judge.”
Ashley Fielding is the senior political reporter for The Times. Share your thoughts, news tips and questions with her: