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5 takeaways from Georgia redistricting public hearing
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State Sen. John F. Kennedy, R-Macon, chairman of the Senate Reapportionment and Redistricting Committee speaks during a virtual town hall meeting on redistricting Tuesday, June 15, 2021.

Public input on the potentially contentious issue of statewide legislative redistricting kicked off Tuesday, June 15.

The virtual event was filled mostly with comments from Georgia residents, with some information about what lies ahead in the once-in-a-decade process.

The meeting was held by the House Legislative & Congressional Reapportionment Committee and the Senate Reapportionment and Redistricting Committee.

Here are a few takeaways:

Fairness and more fairness, please

Many speakers appealed to legislators to make sure that maps are drawn fairly among Republicans, Democrats and independent voters.

The process can be quite contentious as lines are drawn on the backdrop of power struggles between parties in the state and nation. How the lines are drawn may give one party or the other an advantage in a specific area.

“Even though this is usually a very partisan process, it is my hope that this will be a process that unites Georgia rather than divides it,” said one speaker, Niles Francis.

Keeping things ‘transparent’

Speakers also sought for information to flow from the process, particularly in the data that will be used in redrawing lines.

 “I hope you will continue to be as transparent as possible and try to limit the impact that politicians and special interests will have on the process,” Francis said.

Columbus attorney Teddy Reese said he believes census data “should be shared immediately so that people can start planning and looking at where the population shifts are in the state.”

He also called for a “well-established and robust publication of the maps when they are complete.”

What’s ahead in public process

More public input will take place, with legislators planning to hold 10 more meetings on the issue — some in person and some virtual.

Hearings will take place in Atlanta, Cumming, Dalton, Athens, Augusta, Brunswick, Albany, Columbus and Macon. An in-person one is set for 5-7 p.m. June 29 in the cafeteria at South Forsyth High School at 585 Peachtree Parkway, Cumming.

“We’ll be holding at least one more virtual hearing,” said state Rep. Bonnie Rich, R-Suwanee, chairwoman of the House Legislative & Congressional Reapportionment Committee.

Also, a website will be set up for residents to post comments.

“Our goal is to ensure that every comment we get goes into a central location so that we can utilize it and draw upon it in the map-drawing process,” Rich said.

Special session coming, but when?

Legislators don’t know yet just when they can begin redrawing maps.

The Census Bureau “is saying we’ll be getting partial data in late August and that could be used to draw the maps but with the full data not coming in until the end of September,” said Sen. John F. Kennedy, R-Macon, chairman of the Senate Reapportionment and Redistricting Committee.

“There are some lawsuits pending about this data, but we can’t do a lot about that.”

Redistricting versus reapportionment

Although the terms are used interchangeably, officials pointed out there’s a difference.

Reapportionment refers to U.S. congressional districts and how many each state will get.

Officials believe the chances of Georgia adding another seat in the U.S. House of Representatives is bleak. Georgia was one of the lowest-performing states in census participation, totaling roughly 84%.

Redistricting is the redrawing of district lines equally across the state for the U.S. House and Georgia House and Senate seats.