The Republican-controlled state House and Senate approved new district maps Thursday (see below) that were identical to what the party had proposed four days ago when a special legislative session began.
Democrats say the majority party is using the Voting Rights Act to segregate the legislature. But Republicans dismissed the questions as posturing for an eventual court fight against the maps.
At the heart of a long and contentious debate was the federal Voting Rights Act, and how it governs the drawing of legislative districts.
The minority party repeated accusations that Republicans aim to purge white Democrats from the General Assembly. Democrats say the majority party wants a racially-polarized legislature where all Republicans are white and all Democrats black.
But with a solid Republican majority, the House passed the maps overwhelmingly, 108 to 64.
Redistricting committee chair Roger Lane of Darien says lawmakers have told him the Republicans are handling redistricting fairly:
“Those members would tell us, ‘Gosh, this is really a fair process. I’ve never been allowed to do this before, to look at my district while it’s being drawn, and have input into it," he said during floor debate. "It’s usually been brought to me, and they say, “Here’s what it is.”’
The House’s Republican majority says it abided by the federal Voting Rights Act by maintaining districts where minorities have a majority.
But Democrats say the maps will result in fewer White Democrats. Rep. Scott Holcomb of Atlanta is one of several white Democrats who claim Republicans are targeting their districts.
“These political boundaries were engineered based on race to politically re-segregate Georgia," said Holcomb, a military veteran. "Simply stated, these maps produce majority white districts to elect Republicans and majority black districts to elect Democrats.
The Senate passed its maps, shortly after the House vote, and following five hours of debate.
Sen. Jason Carter held the floor for more than hour. The Atlanta Democrat argued that the maps ignored districts where minorities have strong electoral power even though they are not in the majority.
After the maps passed by 35 to 18, Carter said it was all for naught.
“One hundred percent of the map that was presented was adopted," he said after the Senate recessed. "There was no legitimate input once the maps were released, period, from the public, or from anyone. And that’s just the facts.”
Republicans say they released the map last Friday before the session began – something they say the Democrats didn’t do 10 years ago.
To charges by Democrats that the maps isolate black voters, Republicans say their maps increase the number of districts that favor minorities.
Sen. Mitch Seabaugh of Sharpsburg chairs the redistricting committee.
“We can be proud of the process," he said as he closed the floor debate. "We can be proud of the product. We can be proud that we have a constitutional map. We can proud of the fact that we put together a map that meets the Voting Rights Act requirements.”
Both the Senate and House have to approve the other chamber’s map, as a formality. Then the maps head to Gov. Nathan Deal.
After Deal signs off, the federal government gets final approval. But it remains unclear if the Democrats or a group of citizens will file suit against the maps.
The state legislature will reconvene next week to debate congressional district maps.
All of the maps passed by the House and Senate can be found here.
Here are the new State House districts:
Here are the new State Senate districts: