Thanks to all the social media platforms, 24/7 “news” programming and a world full of experts professing to be informed by only the facts and none of the fiction found on the internet, election cycles and political noise have become never-ending realities.
How else to explain that we’re still debating the outcomes of the 2020 presidential election and Georgia’s 2018 gubernatorial vote, even as we’re gearing up to vote again for governor next year and the stage is being set for the next presidential campaign.
As if the constant political soundtrack wasn’t already an omnipresent roar, the volume is going to be ratcheted up in the coming week, first as municipalities across the state hold elections on Nov. 2, and then when the state’s General Assembly convenes in special session on Nov. 3 to deal with the onerous task of redrawing election districts based on the 2020 census numbers.
While most municipal elections in Georgia have tended to be rather routine affairs in the past, that may not prove to be the case this year, as they will serve as the first broad test of the state’s sweeping new election law.
Given changes made to the election law in the last session of the General Assembly, and the increasingly frequent challenges of election results by candidates who fail to win, it’s hard to imagine that Tuesday’s balloting to choose political leadership for cities and towns across the state isn’t going to spawn a controversy of outsized proportion somewhere.
We don’t expect that to be the case with towns here in Hall County, where local election officials have a proven track record of operating efficiently and professionally. But do any of us really think municipal balloting is going to take place in Fulton County without some allegation of wrongdoing?
If nothing else, Tuesday’s voting may serve as a small sample opportunity to test elements in the new election law to see what might pose major problems when a much bigger general election is held statewide next year.
When that election is held, it will include candidates seeking office in newly drawn election districts, assuming the legislature successfully completes the primary task it faces in the special session that begins Wednesday.
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The objective is easy to understand. Across the country, congressional districts need to have roughly the same number of residents living in them. Across the state, the same is true of House and Senate districts. Even down to local school board seats and city council wards, the goal is for districts in any given political entity to be roughly the same size as others in the same entity.
But populations change. Some areas grow, some shrink. With each new census comes the need to redraw election lines to keep districts involved in various elections roughly equal in size, so that one member of Congress has about the same base of constituents as another; one state senator the same as another state senator.
Redrawing of election districts every 10 years is typically a highly political undertaking, as partisan powers try to draft district lines that will boost the likelihood of success for the party to which they pledge allegiance while lessening the likelihood for those on the “other side of the aisle.”
State lawmakers will work in the days to come to draft maps that redraw districts for congressional seats, as well as state House and Senate representation. Theoretically, those new districts will be in play for next year’s general election, though there is always the possibility of court challenges that prevent the changes from taking place in time.
The 2020 Census results were delayed by the COVID pandemic, leading to the redistricting session being delayed, and election officials already are asking for next year’s elections to be pushed back to allow for time to accommodate the changes that will be made to districts by the time the special session is gaveled to a close.
Were there no political considerations involved, a modern mapping program and a good computer could likely redraw boundaries to the required population size in less than a day and everyone could go home. But that’s not the way it works.
Lawmakers will be concerned with trying not to draw incumbents into the same district, trying to maintain “communities of interest” into districts together, and trying not to split counties and voting districts. Those and other concepts are all part of the “general principals for drafting plans” adopted by the state House Reapportionment Committee.
What’s not in the official principles is the inherent desire for consolidation of power based on political party allegiance, which always is a factor in the process. Republicans want maps that will maximize the number of Republicans elected; Democrats want exactly the same thing. It typically is not a pretty process to watch unfold.
The demographic changes in Georgia assure that rural areas of the state, both north and south, will lose representation while the metropolitan areas and suburbs will gain. Political power will shift geographically if nothing else.
Once the process is complete and the maps approved, they will form the basis for qualifying next spring and a full year of campaigns and elections, unless there are court challenge that impede the process.
The opening of the special session next week marks the true beginning of a year-long series of political events that is sufficient to feed the hunger of any election junkie, though it may well sour others on the process. From reapportionment it’s a quick jump to the regular legislative session in January, then to qualifying, primaries, runoffs and the general election next November.
The political calendar is filled to overflowing. Again. Didn’t we just do all that?