Majority Reigns: Republicans Retain Power in Changing Georgia |


ATLANTA – Democrat Joe Biden won Georgia’s presidential race by less than a percentage point.

Republican Brian Kemp won the gubernatorial race in 2018 with 50.2% of the vote.

Census data released this month shows demographic trends all of which point to Georgia on the way to political parity.

So why is it likely, once the redistribution is completed this fall, that the state’s balance of power will remain firmly in the hands of the Republicans?

While Georgia is a battleground in statewide races, Republicans still hold a solid majority in the General Assembly, where they control 58% of the seats, more than enough to approve favorable cards. which virtually guarantee re-election in most districts of the House, State Senate and Congress.

The Republicans’ political dominance on Capitol Hill gives them disproportionate influence compared to the GOP’s 51% share of the popular vote in all the 2020 state general elections added up.

In town hall meetings across the state this summer, Georgians called on lawmakers to change a system they see as unfair and undemocratic.

“Our democracy is damaged when constituencies are so ravaged that only one party has any hope of winning an election,” Julie Bolen, board member of the League of Women Voters of Georgia, said at the meeting. ‘a public meeting in Atlanta. “Georgia has been known in previous elections to have few truly competitive districts.”

The majority party in Georgia and most other states creates unrepresentative constituencies by choosing where to set seat limits in Congress and the Legislature. They use mapping software to add or subtract neighborhoods with a high concentration of Republican or Democratic voters, allowing them to get the desired results before the votes are cast.

When Democrats were in power during the redistribution 20 years ago, they also attempted to tip Georgia’s political borders to their advantage.

Georgia’s population has grown by one million people over the past decade, mostly in metropolitan areas and suburbs, according to census data released this month. The number of black residents increased by 13% while the white population decreased by 1%.

These demographic shifts favor Democrats in the long run, but not in next year’s election, especially after legislative and congressional constituency remapping.

Republicans currently hold 57% of the seats in the State House, 61% of the State Senate, and an 8-6 lead in the state congressional delegation. Those GOP margins could rise after next year’s constituency redistribution, reversing the gradual Democratic gains of recent years.

The redistribution will likely limit the effect of demographic shifts in Georgia in next year’s election, said Alan Abramowitz, professor of political science at Emory University.

“I don’t think anyone thinks the rules made by the ruling party are necessarily fair,” Abramowitz said. “You might say, ‘Well, that’s the way it’s always been,’ and it’s kind of true, but that doesn’t make it right either.

Majority authority is limited by a few main rules: each district must have an equal population under the “one person, one vote” rule established by the United States Supreme Court in 1964, and federal law prohibits them. cards that discriminate on the basis of race.

But the Supreme Court upheld the redistribution for partisan purposes, allowing majority Republicans in Georgia to weaken minority Democrats who typically receive more than 90% of black votes.

And this year, Georgia’s maps won’t need the approval of the US Department of Justice, since the Supreme Court in 2013 freed states with a history of discrimination from federal oversight. The Democratic-controlled U.S. House on Tuesday introduced a bill that would reinstate federal scrutiny of changes to election laws in some states. The legislation, however, faces probable Republican obstruction in the Senate that would prevent it from becoming law.

Republicans say the process will be fair because they will obey the law, listen to public comments and hold public committee hearings before voting on the cards. Kemp has not announced when lawmakers are due to return to Capitol Hill for the redistribution, but the session is expected in October or November.

“We plan to be as transparent as possible,” said Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan, a Republican from Carrolton. “Everyone wants to be seated in the room – the 11 million Georgians – but we don’t have a room big enough for that. So we will be as transparent as possible.”

Adam Kincaid of the National Republican Redistricting Trust, the party’s main mapping organization, said Georgia’s redistribution process must meet state and federal criteria set out in law.

“We don’t think proportionality or proportional representation is the right metric to use when analyzing whether the maps are fair or not,” said Kincaid, executive director of the organization. “Republicans hold the office of governor and they have both houses of the Legislative Assembly and are constitutionally responsible for drawing the state’s legislative and congressional maps.”

Democrats dispute the idea that following the law justifies unrepresentative constituency lines.

Theron Johnson of All On The Line said Republican lawmakers should avoid the “card manipulation” that divides counties and leads to uncompetitive elections. All On The Line is a campaign of the National Redistricting Action Fund, an affiliate of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee.

“Georgia and the rest of the country are becoming more diverse and increasingly concentrated in urban and suburban areas. It scares some Republicans,” Johnson said. “The point is, the state is now evenly divided, and that dynamic should be reflected in our state legislature and our delegation to Congress.”

Johnson said Georgia’s congressional districts should give voters the chance to elect seven Democrats and seven Republicans, a representation that matches the makeup of nearly 50-50 of the state’s voters.

Georgia has gradually leaned more democratic in the last election, gradually becoming stricter over the past 10 years.

Kemp beat Democrat Stacey Abrams 50.2% to 48.3% in 2018. Biden won 49.5% of the vote against 49.3% for Republican Donald Trump last year. Republicans have a greater advantage in state legislative races with a cumulative advantage of 53-47% in the popular vote.

Fairer maps wouldn’t necessarily lead to an equal division between Republicans and Democrats, said Charles Bullock, professor of political science at the University of Georgia, who wrote “Redistricting: The Most Political Activity in America.”

Because Democrats tend to live in dense urban areas, they are not as spread out across the rest of the state, giving Republicans a natural advantage in the state’s 180 House districts and 56 districts of the Georgia State Senate.

Many voters are familiar with gerrymandering, the process of manipulating political boundaries to give the majority party an advantage.

But gerrymandering is harder to see with the naked eye today than it has been in recent decades, when oddly shaped districts twisted winding bends across the landscape or crossed counties along the coast. ‘a freeway,’ said Ken Lawler, president of Fair Districts GA, a fair and transparent redistricting rights group.

Nowadays, constituencies are generally made up of more recognizable blocs that are more likely to survive court challenges while still achieving politicians’ goals of picking and choosing voters.

“The tools have become so stylish and powerful that surgery is performed in depth. The damage is done in secret and hidden,” Lawler said. “The election results are what you can tell. We’re a 50-50 state when you look at the statewide votes, but when you look at it district by district, it’s not so. “

Senatorial Minority Leader Gloria Butler said the Republican majority should create fair cards that reflect the political preferences of Georgian voters.

“I’m concerned about the whole process. They can do whatever they want,” said Butler, a Democrat from Stone Mountain. “I hope they will keep the citizens of the state as their # 1 priority and let the citizens choose who they want to represent them.”

Most states are like Georgia, giving state legislatures exclusive power to redistribute.

Fifteen states assign responsibility for constituency redistribution to committees, which are often bipartisan and appointed by legislative leaders, political parties or retired judges. Efforts by Democrats in Georgia to create a redistribution commission did not advance in the General Assembly.

“We should have representation that reflects the makeup of the state,” said Aunna Dennis, executive director of the government accountability organization Common Cause Georgia. “It could mean redder, more purple or bluer neighborhoods. It should reflect the ideology of the community.”

The two major political parties benefited from the redistribution when they were in power.

After Democrats rediscovered the state in 2001, they temporarily slowed their losses in the General Assembly as Republicans began to win the popular vote in Georgia. Republicans took control of the State Senate after the 2002 election and the State House after the 2004 election.

Then, after the redistribution in 2011, the GOP tightened its control by winning about two-thirds of each chamber in the General Assembly, gaining four more seats in the House and two more in the Senate.

Just as Democrats couldn’t save their majority 20 years ago, Republicans could also lose power, Bullock said. The redistribution alone is unlikely to prevent changes in the growing and diversifying Georgian electorate in the years to come.

“Thieves get fat and pigs are slaughtered. Democrats were pigs and they were slaughtered, and I think there’s a good chance that will happen to Republicans later in the decade if current trends continue,” Bullock said. “As voters’ preferences change, the results change.”

(Editor Maya T. Prabhu contributed to this article.)

—A changing Georgia

2010: Nathan Deal (D) 53%, Roy Barnes (D) 43%

2012: Mitt Romney (D) 53.3%, Barack Obama (D) 45.5%

2014: Nathan Deal (R) 52.8%, Jason Carter (D) 44.9%

2016: Donald Trump (R) 51.1%, Hillary Clinton (D) 45.9%

2018: Brian Kemp (R) 50.2%, Stacey Abrams (D) 48.8%

2020: Joe Biden (R) 49.5%, Donald Trump (R) 49.3%


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