“So far, this redistricting process hasn’t been centered on the people of Georgia.”
Statement of Common Cause Executive Director Aunna Dennis
As Georgia’s state Legislature begins drawing new district lines, there are two approaches they can take. Legislators can draw lines that protect partisan power. Or, they can draw districts that protect communities and give voters the best opportunity to have our voices heard.
Based on what we’ve seen so far, it looks like the Legislature intends to give communities and voters the short shrift again this cycle. But we deserve better.
Georgians deserve a fair, transparent, and equitable redistricting process that prioritizes the needs of communities, and provides multiple accessible options for the public to have their say in the process.
But, frankly, right now it’s almost impossible for the public to find any information about the redistricting process. The official websites have almost nothing about today’s hearing, no minutes of the last meeting, no way for the public to get involved, no meeting schedules, no email address for the public to submit testimony, no notice of upcoming public hearings. If you don’t have a lobbyist, it’s almost impossible to find information about this year’s redistricting process. And most Georgians don’t have any way to participate in the process right now.
We know that special interest groups have been coaching legislators around the country on how to manipulate the districting process to protect partisan power. For example, the American Legislative Exchange Council teamed up with the Heritage Foundation and Georgia’s own former Rep. Lynn Westmoreland in a seminar about redistricting techniques, including how to pack “as many minority voters as possible into their districts, thereby making the rest of the map whiter and more conservative.”
Georgia’s redistricting process shouldn’t be about pleasing special interests, or partisan power-brokers. It should be about ensuring fair representation for Georgia’s communities — and ensuring that all communities are able to access the federal resources they need, regardless of zip code.
It should be about the people of Georgia. And so far, this redistricting process hasn’t been centered on the people of Georgia. Instead, it’s been hidden in weird places on the General Assembly website. The people of Georgia should be able to learn about and participate in this process, without needing to hire a lobbyist.
Today, I’m planning to urge the Committees to increase transparency and the public’s ability to participate in this process. My recommendations include:
- Holding several in person and virtual hearings across the state at a variety of times during the day to encourage comment and participation from as many Georgians as possible. These hearings should be scheduled with sufficient advance notice to allow those who want to participate enough time to prepare.
- Creating multiple avenues for public comment to be submitted, including but not limited to, a website portal, an email address, public hearings, etc.
- Providing live language translation services so that Georgians who do not speak English can participate. We also recommend providing a transcript of each proceeding to ensure accessibility for those who cannot attend.
- Providing public access to the data used to draft maps as well as a public comment period on draft or final maps before passage.
- Consider using official procurement procedures to obtain mapping experts, redistricting legal experts, and any other contractors who may be used in the redistricting process.
- Provide a written report explaining the justification for decisions to divide communities, municipalities, or counties. This report should be released concurrently with the final maps and should be available for public review online.
The 2021 redistricting process should work for all Georgians. We urge the Committees to change paths and ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity to make our voices heard during the upcoming months.
Read Aunna Dennis’ prepared testimony here.