The legislative committees responsible for drafting plans to redraw election districts statewide have officially kicked off the process, having held the first of a slate of meetings meant to solicit public input.
The redistricting committees of the state House and Senate held a virtual town hall session on the process Tuesday, with additional meetings scheduled over the next six weeks. There will be nine public input sessions held at various locations around the state for in-person comments, with a final virtual session on July 30.
Those responsible for redefining election district lines based on the findings of the 2020 census want to hear what the people of Georgia think they should do with that data. Whether listening to the public will make any difference when the work actually begins remains to be seen.
Excuse us if we’re skeptical, but based on past redistricting efforts, we suspect this summer’s sessions are more about warm and fuzzy PR than gathering input that’s likely to fundamentally change how the most politically partisan process undertaken by the state’s legislative body works its way to finality.
We suspect our thoughts on the process echo much of what will be heard in the public input sessions scheduled over the next six weeks:
Don’t draw election districts that make no geographic sense.
Don’t draw districts to assure one party or the other will gain or retain political power.
Don’t unnecessarily split communities of like-minded people with similar interests and concerns.
Don’t draw districts to maximize political power based on race.
Don’t intentionally draw districts so as to punish certain candidates or incumbents.
Don’t draw districts to help specific candidates win election.
Don’t hide the process from the public.
That we would suggest such a common sense approach to the redrawing of election districts does not imply that we expect any of those ideas to gain much traction when the real work begins. Traditionally, redistricting is an orgy of partisanship power that occurs once a decade and is unmatched in the brutal honesty of its political intent.
When exactly that process will begin is still unknown. The expectation is that a special legislative session will be held late in the year, maybe November. Final census data is expected by the end of September but will then have to be analyzed, crunched, reviewed and mapped before the full body of lawmakers goes to work.
Maybe a summer of public input will make the process more palatable, but in decades past, logic and common sense have routinely given way to self-serving politics in the redrawing of election districts, and we’ll be pleasantly surprised if that’s not the case this time around.
In fact, this year’s effort could be worse than usual, for two reasons.
One is that the partisan divide between Republicans and Democrats is more pronounced than it has been in many years, maybe ever, and with demographic growth in areas that may be shifting in terms of political philosophy, the effort to hold on to control of legislative power is going to be substantial.
The other is that for decades Georgia’s final redrawing of political lines had to be submitted to the Department of Justice for final approval under the federal Voting Rights Act. But since we last went through this process, the courts have found the “preclearance” requirement to be unconstitutional, so no federal approval is required.
In truth, given modern mapping technology and the level of data available, the process could be done without consideration for politics at all, but we all know that’s not going to happen.
So what’s at stake in this redrawing of election districts, and why should you care?
The growth in population since the last redistricting means the boundaries for most election districts in Georgia will be changed headed into the 2022 elections. Congressional districts will change. State House and Senate districts will change. Even local county commission and school board districts will have to be redrawn.
There’s quite a legacy of unsavory performance when legislators take on the task of drawing district lines that affect their own political futures and that of their friends.
In the past, legislators have redrawn districts so that two incumbents found themselves thrown together into a single district and forced to run against each other. They have redrawn districts specifically to prevent a particular candidate from running in a district favorable to their election. They have combined communities likely to lean toward a particular political party into one district, so that the other party is more likely to win election in other districts. They have drawn district lines to avoid diversity of racial composition.
When in power, both political parties have used the redrawing of political lines to make sure their dominance lasts as long as possible, as the decisions made remain in place for a decade.
Maybe this year will be different. We’d like to think so, but then again we’d like to think the Tooth Fairy comes at night with a pocket full of $5 bills, Santa visits all houses, even those without chimneys, and pink unicorns frolic in undiscovered forests.