Every ten years, when the census is taken, state legislators have an opportunity to redraw the voting maps. Ideally, remapping is supposed to update districts as demographic shifts occur, ensuring that districts are relatively equally populated and representative of the state’s population.
However, remapping can be influenced in ways that distort election outcomes. This is referred to as gerrymandering and Republicans have been doing it in Georgia for far too long.
What is gerrymandering?
According to the Brennan Center for Justice, gerrymandering occurs when “[the redistricting] process is used to draw maps that put a thumb on the scale to manufacture election outcomes that are detached from the preferences of voters.” This is usually accomplished in one of two ways — packing or cracking.
When a population is “packed,” certain groups of voters are crammed together into a small number of districts. This means they are powerful in certain districts, but the number of districts in which they are influential is disproportionately small compared to their percentage of the population overall.
Alternatively, a population may be “cracked.” This occurs when a given group is split up into multiple districts to dilute their voting power. While the cracked group might make up a relatively high percentage of the population in a geographic area, their district maps make it so that its extremely difficult for them to get any representation.
Gerrymandering in the United States
Portions of the Voting Rights Act are meant to protect against gerrymandering. However, the Supreme Court’s interpretation of these provisions determines the impact they are able to have.
On June 25, 2013, the Supreme Court issued their decision in the Shelby County v Holder case. Their decision effectively ended the process of ‘preclearance,’ in which jurisdictions with a history of voting discrimination had to receive approval from the Attorney General or a federal court before changing election procedures.
However, earlier this year the US Supreme Court upheld Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. In a case concerning the voting districts in Alabama, the court ruled that it was unconstitutional for the state legislature to gerrymander districts to the extent the Black voters (who are over one in four of the voters overall) could only elect one representative out of Alabama’s seven seats.
Gerrymandering in Georgia
Georgia has a serious gerrymandering problem. This is exacerbated by the fact that the state does not have an initiative process. This means any redistricting reform has to pass through the General Assembly and will then have to be approved by the governor. Under current Republican leadership, neither the Assembly or governor are likely to accept changes that would make Georgia’s districts more fair and competitive, but dilute Republican majorities.
Our gerrymandering is so intense that the Gerrymandering Project gave Georgia’s state senate voting map an “F.” This means our elections are biased, with Republicans having a significant partisan advantage over Democrats and most races are designed to be uncompetitive.
However, ongoing litigation offers a glimmer of hope for a more just and equitable electoral future in Georgia. On September 5, 2023, a trial started in Georgia against the current voting maps. This case is expected to be a two-week case, and if the judge rules against the state, he will likely order the General Assembly to redraw the voting districts.
Repercussions From Alabama’s Court Case
The recent court case in Alabama gives important precedent to the case in Georgia. With the judgment in the Alabama case that African Americans were unconstitutionally gerrymandered to give them less representation, Judge Steve Jones is expected to agree that Section 2 of the VRA was also violated by the Republican state assembly in Georgia as well. The plaintiffs in the Georgia case argue that, based on population metrics, African American voters should have an additional congressional seat, as well as additional seats in the state house and senate.
The reaction of Alabama’s state assembly also speaks volumes as to why we need to flip the Georgia state assembly blue. The Republican majority in the Alabama assembly attempted to completely ignore the Supreme Court rulings, making a new district map that still did not comply with the VRA. Then, they even took the unconstitutional maps to court again in an attempt to reverse the ruling. Republicans have shown that they are willing to steal fair representation from their constituents in order to keep their hold on power. If we want to avoid a similar fate in Georgia, we need to flip the assembly BLUE.