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Monday, August 29, 2011 - 11:35am

Calls Come for Independent Redistricting

Updated: 3 years ago.
Watchdog groups agree redistricting has been more transparent this year. But many still say that elected officials choose their voters, rather than the other way around. And they say the only solution is an independent commission in which citizens would have a hand in drawing the maps.

The state legislature will wrap up the special redistricting session this week. Watchdog groups say the process has been somewhat more transparent this time. But the groups are still pushing for an independent redistricting commission.

Republicans handling redistricting cite the transparency of public meetings in the Spring, and the releasing of draft maps before the session began.

But William Perry of Common Cause Georgia says the state still has far to go. That’s because incumbents, not citizens, create the maps.

Perry points to Hall County, Gov. Nathan Deal’s home base. After Deal complained that the new map divided the county too much, Republican legislative leaders promised to amend it. Perry questions that decision.

“Why can’t the citizens of Rockdale County ask for their county to get fixed? And Athens, or Henry County?" Perry said, following a redistricting committee meeting. "It’s the exact same thing. Henry County is split eight ways now. So are they able to lobby at the same level? Unfortunately they are not. And it all goes back to the fact that we have incumbents making decisions about incumbents’ districts.”

Perry says both parties take such liberties. And as a result, he says, Georgia needs to follow states like Arizona that don’t allow elected officials to draw the maps.

Redistricting experts say the state would adopt that method only if there wasn’t a clear political majority.

Charles Bullock is a professor at the University of Georgia.

“It would have to occur under a circumstance where there was great uncertainty on the part of both parties," he said in a telephone interview. "Let’s say the party which currently held the majority would be afraid they might not be able retain it through the next round of redistricting, in which case it might figure it would better to kick it to an independent commission rather than let the other party take over.”

A 2006 taskforce recommended creating an independent commission to handle redistricting. But bills to establish one have stalled in the state legislature.

Republican leaders have said the reapportionment office, which isn't staffed by legislators, draws the actual maps. And those maps are based on census data. But some of the officials involved with the process, including the office's counsel, were appointed by Republicans and aren't considered non-partisan by watchdog groups.

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