The Republican-led Georgia Senate Reapportionment and Redistricting Committee adopted a redrawn Senate map Friday Democrats and citizen activists criticized as partisan and rushed.
The panel voted 9-4 along party lines to send a proposed map to the full Senate an independent nonpartisan analysis showed could let Democrats reduce the Republican majority by one seat.
Currently, all of Forsyth County lies in District 27, represented by state Sen. Greg Dolezal, R-Cumming, except the area north of Hwy. 53, which is in District 51, represented by state Sen. Steve Gooch, R-Dahlonega, which includes Dawson, Fannin, Gilmer, Fannin, Union, Lumpkin, White and part of Pickens counties.
Under the draft, Forsyth County would still be split into two state Senate districts, but the areas would change.
Under the Senate proposal, all of Forsyth County would be in District 27, except for an area in south Forsyth approximately between Hwys. 9 and 20 south of the city of Cumming to the county line, which would be part of District 48 along with the city of Johns Creek and northeast Fulton County and the city of Sugar Hill and northwest Gwinnett County.
District 48 is currently represented by state Sen. Michelle Au, D-Johns Creek.
But opponents said a fairer map such as an alternative prepared by Senate Democrats would result in districts that more accurately reflect minority population growth in Georgia during the last decade.
The map’s opponents also criticized the committee’s timing – releasing the proposed map last Tuesday on the same day as municipal elections were being held across the state and voting on it even as the Atlanta Braves celebrated this week’s World Series victory with a parade within a few blocks of the Georgia Capitol.
“Georgians have demanded fair maps and a transparent redistricting process, and Georgia Senate Republicans are failing on both fronts,” said Scott Hogan, executive director of the Democratic Party of Georgia. “Georgians deserve an open redistricting process – not one that rushes a decision that will affect Georgians for the next decade.”
The General Assembly redraws Georgia’s congressional and legislative district lines every 10 years to accommodate changes in population reflected in the U.S. Census.
The Peach State grew during the last decade by about 1 million to 10.7 million, primarily the result of increasing numbers of minority residents.
“Georgia’s growth has been driven by Black, Hispanic and Asian Georgians,” Senate Minority Leader Gloria Butler, D-Stone Mountain, told committee members Friday. “Every map must reflect that reality.”
Instead, Butler complained the map proposed by Senate Republicans would split several counties with large minority populations to dilute minority voting strength. She cited as examples Bibb, Chatham, Athens-Clarke, Douglas and Henry counties.
The alternative map Senate Democrats proposed would give minority voters a better chance to elect candidates of their choice by keeping Athens-Clarke together inside a single district and putting most of Henry County in a single district, Butler said.
Sen. Harold Jones, D-Augusta, said the courts frown on “racial gerrymandering,” redrawing districts in a way that reduces minority voting power.
“If you have the opportunity to create a majority-minority district without a lot of crazy gerrymandering, you ought to take it,” Jones suggested to the committee.
Other Democrats as well as representatives of civil and voting rights groups who testified Friday during a public-comment period accused Republican leaders of rushing the Senate map through the committee in just three days without sufficient chance for public review.
“Transparency is a big deal,” said Sen. Ed Harbison, D-Columbus. “If you subscribe to that, you can’t go wrong.”
But committee Chairman John Kennedy, R-Macon, said the Senate map was the product of weeks of public hearings across Georgia.
Sen. Bill Cowsert, R-Athens, said interested members of the public have had access to 2020 Census data since September and have been able to submit comments on an online portal set up by the committee.
Cowsert said the Republican map complies with the federal Voting Rights Act as well as such general redistricting principles as keeping districts as close to equal in population as possible.
“These districts are compact,” he said. “There are no pairings of incumbents and very minimal splitting of counties.”
The map will head next to the Senate floor for a vote, probably next week.
Meanwhile, the Georgia House Legislative and Reapportionment Committee began work Friday on drawing new House districts. The panel was presented with both Republican and Democratic maps.
“We’re proud of our map, and we think it’s the best for all Georgians,” said House Minority Leader James Beverly, D-Macon. “This is a map that people will look at and say, ‘Hey, they got it right.’”
Rep. Bonnie Rich, R-Suwanee, who chairs the committee, introduced the GOP leadership map, which she said complies with all constitutional and federal voting rights requirements.
Rich said the map includes 48 House districts that are majority Black, and 78 “minority opportunity” districts.
While Forsyth has the same number of current and proposed state Senate districts, Forsyth could see an increase in House districts.
Currently, Forsyth County lies in parts of five state House districts: 9 in northwest Forsyth, the majority of Dawson and Lumpkin counties, represented by Will Wade, R-Dawsonville; 22 in west Forsyth, east Cherokee and north Fulton, represented by Wes Cantrell, R-Woodstock; 24 in west Forsyth, represented by Sheri Gilligan, R-Cumming; 25 in south Forsyth and north Fulton, represented by Todd Jones, R-South Forsyth; and 26 in east and northeast Forsyth, represented by Lauren McDonald, R-Cumming
In the House plan, Forsyth would increase from five state Representatives to seven.
Under the proposal, District 11 would be in northwest Forsyth, northwest Cherokee and Pickens counties, 24 in west Forsyth and north Fulton, 28 in north and northeast Forsyth and into Hall County, 26 in the city of Cumming and other areas of central Forsyth and Districts 25, 50 and 100 would be in south Forsyth and surrounding counties.
The committee will hold a hearing on both maps on Monday.
Kelly Whitmire contributed to this report.