Georgia State Senate map debate focuses on voting rights

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ATLANTA (AP) – Democrats and liberal-leaning groups on Thursday attacked a Republican plan to redraw Georgia State Senate districts as violating federal voting rights law by unnecessarily dividing minority populations.

This is a crucial discussion as the Republican majority in the state Senate moves towards voting its favorite card in committee as early as Friday. The United States Supreme Court for the past decade has ruled out challenges based on partisan gerrymandering. But although the court overturned the requirement that Georgia and other areas with a history of racial discrimination obtain preclearance for new district cards from the US Department of Justice, the way remains open for people to bring lawsuits. a racial bias lawsuit after lawmakers passed maps.

Such trials are probably the best opportunity Democrats will have to change a map that could initially produce a Republican majority of 33-23 in the Senate, compared to 34-22 now. Legislative procedures will likely be part of the evidence in any legal challenge.

The chairman of the Senate Redistribution and Redistribution Committee, John Kennedy, a Maconian Republican, has defended the cards against accusations of racial prejudice.

“We have also made efforts and made sure to comply with the Voting Rights Act, creating majority minority districts and new minority opportunity districts,” Kennedy said.

But critics, starting with Senate Minority Leader Gloria Butler, a Democrat from Stone Mountain, pointed to specific examples they said showed bad intentions. Butler focused on Senate District 48, now held by State Senator Michelle Au of Johns Creek. The GOP plan draws parts of it to whiter areas of Gwinnett and Forsyth counties, creating a district more likely to be won by a Republican.

“The proposed plan turns a majority minority district into a majority white district,” Butler said of District 48.

Senator Bill Cowsert, a Republican from Athens, said Butler’s analysis was legally flawed because it included all non-whites and the voting rights law did not protect minority coalitions. This remains a subject of dispute under federal law.

“This is not a voting district,” Cowsert said.

Speakers also criticized the continued division of Athens-Clarke County, which allows all Republicans to represent parts of one of Georgia’s most democratic counties, as well as the division of Gwinnett County.

The map would now draw the northern districts of Cobb and Fulton counties to more Republican areas of Cherokee and Bartow counties, likely creating easier pathways to the re-election of multiple Republican incumbents.

Kareem El-Hosseiny, director of government affairs for the Georgian section of the Council on US-Islamic Relations, said the move “would shatter communities in competitive Cobb County by stretching them further away from Atlanta.”

Kennedy defended Cobb’s movements, saying these areas are communities with common interests, and said some large counties like Chatham County from Savannah have been divided to keep the small counties whole. The proposed Republican map divides 29 of the 159 counties in Georgia, up from 39 currently.

Kennedy also said it was unfair to focus on just one district.

“Taking any district out of the rest of the map and looking at it in a vacuum isn’t really a realistic or fair way, because each district has a connection to the districts around it,” Kennedy said.

Vasu Abhiraman, senior policy adviser for the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia, disputed this point, saying map designers need to look at voting patterns in local areas.

“The ability of communities of color to elect prime candidates at the same level as other communities is paramount,” said Abhiraman. “It reigns. It is not something to weigh against these other factors.

Fair Districts GA, a group that tries to prevent gerrymandering, classified the Senate proposal as an F, saying it is far too Republican to reflect the state’s overall partisan balance. The group also criticizes the card for having only one district where parties should be competitive.

Janet Grant, vice president of Fair Districts GA, urged Republicans to consider a less stacked plan against Democrats, as well as more districts where the two parties would be competitive and at least one more district with enough minority voters to influence the results.

Cowsert scorned the group, in part because he relies on modelers at Princeton University to help with the analysis.

“The people drawing the maps, who could have built 35 or 36 Republican seats if they wanted to be partisan, instead cut the number of Republican seats, and Princeton, New Jersey, thinks that’s unfair,” Cowsert said. .

There are other considerations in the map. With the exception of two Republicans running for office across the state, the card protects all Senate incumbents.

Kennedy said the map includes Democratic suggestions and demands from public hearings, such as an “onion belt” district around Vidalia.

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Follow Jeff Amy at http://twitter.com/jeffamy.

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