In Georgia, redistricting is controlled by the state legislature through a joint Redistricting and Reapportionment Committee. A local redistricting bill, SB 177, passed in 2019 and requires that all local redistricting bills for school boards and board of commissioners pass through the state legislature and the Legislative and Congressional Reapportionment Office.
Community of Interest Story
Powder Springs and Austell, two cities in metro Atlanta with majority Black populations and significant populations of people of color, were drawn into CD-14, a predominantly white and rural congressional district in northwest Georgia represented by Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene. When residents of Austell and Powder Springs found out they would be lumped into a district with interests vastly different from their own, they came out in droves to public hearings held by the legislature to protest against this move. Residents argued that they could not be represented by this configuration of CD-14. Despite significant turnout and organized testimony by residents of color in the area, the state legislature carried out the redrawing to put their communities in CD-14, splitting them from other metro Atlanta voters.
Overall State Grade: D
Many opportunities for public comment but input largely ignored: There were definite improvements in opportunities for public input from 2010, and the legislature did provide public hearings throughout the state that allowed for public comment. However, most of these hearings were held before Census data came out and no draft maps were released until after the listening tour was over. There was also no language access provided for non-English speaking Georgians who wished to participate.
Community of interest (COI) maps and unity maps were not considered: The state provided no option to upload COI maps or unity maps to the public input portal. Groups were able to submit COI and unity maps directly to legislators or through a legislative sponsor, but advocates stated these maps were not remarked upon nor given a meaningful response in committee.
Lack of transparency in decision making: Advocates and community members created maps, testified, and submitted COI maps to the legislature but felt they were sending them into the ether. There was no clear process for legislators to respond to maps received or show what input they took into account, and the public was given little opportunity to comment on draft maps before they were passed.
Local Grade: F
State overreach of local elected officials: With the 2019 passage of SB 177, all local redistricting legislation must go through the state legislative delegation in Georgia. In key urban metro areas, there were attempts by the state legislative delegation to usurp local authorities’ efforts for a more fair and transparent process to force implementation of their own maps. This received the most attention in Cobb, Augusta-Richmond, Athens-Clarke, and Gwinnett Counties.
Lack of transparency and rushed efforts: One advocate described the county-level process as an “onslaught and ambush”. Almost all local maps passed during the legislative session for the 159 counties in Georgia without public local hearings and without the public seeing the maps.
Advocacy community stretched thin: Given the sheer number of counties in Georgia and the speed with which local maps were passed, it was difficult for the advocacy community to catch all local redistricting issues.
- Successful mobilization is possible despite push-back: Advocates were successful in mobilizing and educating thousands of people to get involved in the redistricting process this cycle. Many stated that they believed this made it harder for the legislature to make blatantly racist or political decisions and forced them to temper their gerrymandering to some extent. Multiple advocates also spoke to the improved redistricting ecosystem this cycle and better coordination between c3 and c4 groups. Public participation was also made easier by access to technology and virtual tools as well as free mapping tools that advocate groups used to reach communities.
- More redistricting technicians are needed: Advocates spoke to the need for more redistricting data, mapping, and legal experts in Georgia to focus on the specifics of legal language, mapping, and technical redistricting questions. This would be especially helpful for local level redistricting questions and concerns.
- Media training and help with media engagement is needed: Many organizers spoke of the need for additional media training, especially to get stories placed in harder to reach areas. Multiple advocates spoke of the need for media relations training for the coalition in pitching stories to reporters and for more messaging resources to use in coalition – e.g., sample press releases, op-eds, letters to the editor, etc.
- Focus on the local: Advocates were so busy with state and congressional redistricting but expressed a need for more resources to monitor and organize around local redistricting. People often have very specific local questions based in their area – like who to talk to on their city council, and local knowledge and organizing is extremely important for being able to engage people in redistricting in the future.
- Leverage existing relationships and focus on local issues: Building on existing partnerships and connections for trainings provided advocates with great success and the ability to reach people with redistricting messaging. Messaging was especially effective when it tied redistricting to kitchen table issues and local issues for communities.
- More alignment between advocacy and legal groups is needed: Multiple advocates spoke to the difficulty of alignment between different advocacy and legal groups. Some stated that legal groups were unwilling to coordinate fully with on-the-ground advocacy groups. Georgia has very quickly launched into the political spotlight. With this, there is great need for integrating advocacy, lobbying, education, and litigation efforts. Having more people liaising between c3/c4 groups and legal groups could greatly strengthen redistricting efforts and make work easier for everyone.