The members of the state’s Reapportionment and Redistricting Committee are convening for a meeting on their proposed district maps that will be live streamed this afternoon at 1:00 p.m. The meeting is the first and only opportunity for the public to provide testimony on draft maps before they are signed into law for the next ten years.
Common Cause Georgia will underscore the overall lack of transparency in the current process, advocate for additional public hearings before maps are approved, and highlight how the proposed maps slice and dice communities, making it more difficult for those areas to receive the representation and resources they need to thrive.
To watch the meeting, click here.
Below is the prepared testimony of Common Cause Georgia Executive Director Aunna Dennis.
“Thank you for the opportunity to testify today. My name is Aunna Dennis and I am the Executive Director of Common Cause Georgia. For decades, Common Cause has advocated on behalf of our members, supporters, and all Georgians for a fair, transparent, accessible redistricting process that results in truly representative maps.
Redistricting in Georgia has historically been conducted in a secretive process, where the interests of partisan operatives and party leaders were prioritized over the interests of everyday Georgians. We deserve better. It is past time for Georgia to come together and demand fair and transparent maps that don’t divide our communities and dilute our voting power.
In addition to the partisan machinations of previous redistricting cycles, there has also been a sustained and historical attempt to silence the voices of voters of color, particularly African-American voters. This has been accomplished by intentionally diluting African-American voting strength, particularly in districts that are held by African-American elected officials. Vote dilution most commonly occurs when those who draw redistricting plans compress minority communities into a small number of districts (packing) or spread them thinly into a large number of districts (cracking or splitting). Cracking and Packing has become a huge concern in cities of Lawrenceville, and Stonecrest, with Richmond, Muscogee, Fulton, Henry, and Cobb Counties having the most “cracked” state house districts.
Here in Georgia, the white population decreased by .96% with an overall state population falling from 55.88% to 50.06%. However, Fulton County has experienced an increase in gentrification as more whites move from rural areas to the Atlanta metropolitan areas, and Hispanics now make up 10% of Georgia’s population. These significant demographic changes must be represented in the final, enacted voting maps.
We are deeply concerned that the patterns of the past are repeating themselves in 2021. The maps that have been presented solidify racial voter polarization while impacting precinct allocations. This is very harmful when we look toward the 2024 election. Mapping lines should not be used to manipulate local delegations to secure future federal wins. This is particularly concerning given the fact that preclearance is no longer in effect, which means that there is no mechanism to check the Georgia General Assembly maps prior to enactment. This is further exacerbated by the way this redistricting process has moved forward.
While we appreciate that you held hearings before the maps were drawn, today’s hearing is the only opportunity for Georgians to testify on the proposed maps. These proposed maps were released less than three days ago, several hours after they were promised, and during a time when most Georgians were focused on something else, which provides insufficient time for advocates and members of the public to fully analyze the maps in order to provide you with meaningful comments. Further, our understanding is that these maps are slated to be voted on tomorrow which does not give you, as members of the General Assembly, sufficient time to digest and incorporate the public feedback that you are receiving today.
For purposes of our testimony today, given the short amount of time available for analysis, Common Cause focused on general, statewide concerns, along with a deeper understanding of how the proposed district lines impacted four cities: Lawrenceville, Stonecrest, Newnan, and Fayetteville. In each of these cities, district lines divide up the cities and the communities contained within them. These divisions will intimately impact not only the voting experience of Georgians in those communities (who they can vote for, where their polling places are), but will also impact the representation and resources available to them.
First, compliance with Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 is a legally mandatory minimum when adopting new maps. Achieving VRA compliance requires the judicious use of racial data and previous election results in order to conduct a racially polarized voting analysis. We strongly encourage the Georgia General Assembly to make their results of this analysis public.
Further, we encourage the Georgia General Assembly to view compliance with the VRA as a floor, not a ceiling, when it comes to ensuring that Indigenous, African-American, Latinx, Asian/Pacific Islander and other communities of color have an equal opportunity to elect candidates of their choice. The Georgia General Assembly should, with significant public input from organizations and communities of color, consider whether drawing opportunity districts, coalition districts, or influence districts could ultimately increase the voting power and representation of communities of color who have historically been sidelined or used as pawns in the redistricting process.
Second, we are concerned about the impact of splitting voting precincts on election administration and voter experience. As you know, when a precinct is split into multiple districts, election administration becomes more complicated. Voters may be confused about which district they are in, which leads to slower processing times and longer lines. Elections officials need to manage multiple ballots, rather than just one, which again, increases the complexity of their work. Especially in cases where voters have been moved from one district to another, we are concerned about increased voter confusion and challenges in election administration. Accordingly, we strongly encourage you to minimize precinct splits to only those that are necessary to achieve substantially equal population.
Impact of Proposed Maps on Select Cities
At its core, the purpose of redistricting should be to ensure that every Georgian has an equal opportunity to elect a candidate of their choice. This means that, among other things, districts must be mostly equal in population, comply with the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and keep communities whole as much as possible. We know that people’s first connection to politics is at the local level. Decisions made by local elected officials intimately affect every part of our lives. Additionally, local politics is often a stepping stone for emerging leaders. It’s a place for community leaders to run in smaller elections to build their skills and political power in hopes of someday representing their community in the Georgia General Assembly or the U.S. Congress. Accordingly, the impact of redistricting on these communities is about more than just immediate resources and political power; it is about building toward better representation in the future.
To determine how the proposed maps would impact Georgia communities, we took a closer look at four municipalities: Lawrenceville, Stonecrest, Newnan, and Fayetteville. Each of these municipalities have a growing Black population and each have been the subject of testimony by community members during the redistricting hearings.
Lawrenceville is the county seat of Gwinnett County and generally considered a suburb of Atlanta. It has a population of approximately 30,000 people. As you can see from this map, it is split into four senate districts. This means that the people of Lawrenceville may struggle to have full representation since it makes up only a small part of each of the four districts.
Stonecrest is a relatively new city, which was incorporated in 2017. It is located in the southern part of Dekalb County and has a rapidly growing population. The vast majority of the population in Stonecrest in Black.
As you can see from the map, the proposed House map divides the city of Stonecrest into four separate districts. This is especially concerning given the majority Black population and the fact that the city itself was founded to ensure the interests of the people who lived in this previously unincorporated area.
Newnan is a city in the metro Atlanta area and is the county seat of Coweta County with a population of over 42,000. As with our other example cities, it is split into two separate house districts, district 70 and 73. Additionally, it was moved into a different congressional district.
Of all the examples that we looked at, Fayetteville is the most concerning. Not only is Fayetteville split between two counties, it is also split into four House districts (districts 68, 69, 73 and 74) and two Congressional districts (3 and 13). Fayetteville is the smallest of the municipalities we looked at with a population of under 20,000. Nevertheless, it is divided into multiple districts, leaving residents without someone who is primarily tasked with representing them. Additionally, the demographics of Fayetteville are changing – with the quickly growing Black population primarily located in the south of the city. Notably, Fayetteville did not elect its first Black mayor until 2015. Local politics are often the stepping stone to higher office and are concerned that dividing up the city of Fayetteville into multiple House and Congressional districts may make it more difficult for candidates from Fayetteville to run and win in those districts.
One final note: Redistricting works best when people, not political operatives are at the center of the process. That’s why it is essential that (1) there are accessible opportunities for meaningful public input into all the local redistricting processes; and (2) every Georgian pays attention and participates in the local and state redistricting processes.
We understand that there are significant political impacts to redistricting. The way our district lines are drawn can dictate the outcomes of elections for one party or the other. And that’s important, particularly given the serious issues at hand as well as the heightened political polarization. However, at its core, redistricting should be about the people of Georgia and creating districts where they can elect candidates of their choice. For Black, Latinx, Indigenous, Asian/Pacific Islander and other communities of color who have traditionally been left out of the process or, worse, used as pawns for partisan operatives, this is even more important.
We strongly encourage the Georgia General Assembly to commit to fair, transparent, and community driven maps that protects communities of Black, Latinx, AAPI, Indigenous and other communities of color who rarely have a seat at the table.”