Georgia Democrats Push Back on Redistricting, Seek Independent Commission
(APN) ATLANTA — Of the many structural deficiencies with our democratic process in the U.S., politically-motivated redistricting of state and federal legislative districts–also known as gerrymandering–is one of the worst culprits of creating extremist, dysfunctional governments that disempower voters.
State Sen. Elena Parent (D-Atlanta) and others are trying to do something about this and have filed two resolutions, SR 6 and SR 7, to prevent partisan gerrymandering from continuing.
SR 6 is an amendment to the Constitution of Georgia to provide that legislative and Congressional reapportionment be done by an independent bipartisan commission instead of the General Assembly.
SR 7 is a resolution to provide procedures and standards for legislative and Congressional reapportionment .
In the meantime, HB 515, is the poster child for why an independent, bipartisan committee is necessary to decide future redistricting in Georgia.
HB 515, if passed in the full State Senate, will change the House of Representative district lines for eight Republicans and one Democratic district, to the benefit of the Republican Party in Georgia.
This shell game is how elections are rigged by moving the lines to make incumbents stronger and safer.
State Reps. Rich Golick (R-Smyrna) and Brian Strickland (R-McDonough) are in districts that have been trending Democratic, and this bill is a shameless effort to shore up those vulnerable Republican districts by moving democratic leaning voters out of those districts.
HB 515, sponsored by State Rep. Johnnie Caldwell (R-Thomaston), was sneaked into the house hopper three days before Crossover Day 2017, and rushed through the House Legislative and Congressional Reapportionment Committee without any public commit.
It passed the full House with a vote of 108 yea to 59 nays. Voters whose districts are impacted by this anti-democratic bill were not consulted.
HB 515 is now in the Senate Reapportionment and Redistricting Committee.
Meanwhile, there was lots of support from voters for SR 6 and 7. An overflow crowd attended the Senate Reapportionment and Redistricting Committee Hearing on February 27, 2017.
Over thirty people signed up to speak but time only permitted a few, so a second hearing is planned for sometime hopefully later this session.
“These resolutions and the idea contained in them will make our democracy work better, bring more people into the process, and make government better reflect the people they seek to govern. Either or both would be an improvement on our democratic process,” Sen. Parent advised Senate Committee members.
As it stands now, redistricting is used to amplify partisan advantage, and that undermines democracy. Candidates in Georgia tend to be responsive to loud, passionate but smaller partisan groups that are important in primaries, but ignore the majority of more moderate and independent people in the districts who vote in the general elections.
Last year, 81 percent of Georgia’s state legislative seats were uncontested in the the November General Election and that is the highest percentage in the nation.
Georgia has about ten swing districts out of 236 in the General Assembly.
“No Congressional seat in our state is truly competitive,” Sen. Parent explained.
During the 2016 presidential election, many voters spoke of not being represented and how they felt that the system was rigged against the voters, in favor of powerful, money interests.
“I believe the basis for this sentiment can be attributed to the consequences of gerrymandering that no longer serves the voters,” Dr. Henry Singleton, a local emergency physician, said at the hearing.
“The extreme gridlock in the U.S. House of Representative will continue until redistricting throughout the United States is distanced from partisan politics,” Robert Reagan, a concerned citizens, said.
“We the people are left with a congress of intrinsic ideologies with no initiatives to compromise on any meaningful legislation,” Reagan concluded.
To be sure, when the Democrats had the majority in the Georgia Legislature, they used the redistricting process to perpetuate their own power as much as they could as well.
“No one has a monopoly on abusing this process for their own benefit but the losers are the people we are suppose to represent,” State Senator Josh McKoon (R-Columbus), one of the con-sponsors of the resolutions, said.
Speakers suggested using computer technology like one developed by Brian Olson:
It is programmed to create districts considering equal population and compactness only.
Moon Duchin, a professor of math at Tufts University is using metric geometry to combat gerrymandering.
SR 6 sets up a bipartisan Citizens’ Redistricting Commission made up of fourteen members to include five from the majority party and five from the minority party and four independents.
Some of the guidelines the commission should use in drawing the maps are:
(1) The plan will be in compliance with the Constitutions of Georgia and the United States.
(2) In compliance with the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965, as amended;
(3) contain only contiguous districts;
(4) contain districts that are as compact as possible.
(5) Maintain communities of interest like urban, suburban, rural, neighborhood, social, cultural, and economic interests.
(6) Follow lines of political subdivisions, counties, municipalities, school districts and geographic boundaries.
(7) If for congressional redistricting, shall provide for zero deviation among districts and for legislative redistricting shall provide for as close as practicable to zero deviation among the districts.
(8) The districts shall not be drawn with the intent to favor a political party or an incumbent; not drawn to deny equal opportunity of racial or language minorities to participate in the political process or to diminish their ability to elect representatives of their choice.
The crowd demanded a vote on the resolutions before Crossover Day but that did not happen.