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Thursday, October 6, 2011 - 11:51am

Redistricting Maps Go to Court

Georgia officials said Thursday they will seek approval from a federal court for new state and congressional district maps drawn by the Republican-controlled state legislature. The state will also simultaneously submit them to the U.S. Department of Justice for review.

Under the Voting Rights Act, the federal government must approve any changes to Georgia’s election maps. The state can submit the maps to the U.S. Department of Justice for review or Georgia can go directly through the federal courts.

Georgia is one of nine states that must follow special provisions of the law.

University of Georgia redistricting expert Charles Bullock says Georgia is the third state in this group to submit the maps both ways this year.

“By filing suit, you’ve already got the judicial process underway in case you get a negative review from the Department of Justice," Bullock said by phone. "And there’s also some thought at least based on these other states that by doing both kinds of submissions simultaneously, you may put pressure on the Department of Justice to expedite the review.”

State officials say the move reflects a need to finalize the maps before Georgia’s primary election next July.

“Our goal is to frankly to have both the filing and the administrative submission and to do everything we can so as not to delay next year’s election,” said Attorney General Sam Olens, a Republican.

Republican lawmakers are in charge of redistricting for the first time in the state's history.

State Democrats say the maps violate federal law by diluting minority electoral strength. And they say by submitting the maps two ways, the Republicans are hedging their bets.

"The fact that they put the backup plan in place shows that they were nervous at least to some extent about the Justice Department approving the maps," said Sen. Jason Carter, an Atlanta Democrat.

Playing into the decision is likely the Justice Department's announcement last week that it will challenge Texas' redistricting maps.