As Georgia’s Black voter base grows, lawmakers may have to redraw congressional maps

If a federal judge rules in favor of a coalition of plaintiffs, it would indicate Georgia’s maps are unfair to Black and minority voters and must be changed.
Published: Sep. 5, 2023 at 6:29 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 5, 2023 at 7:40 PM EDT
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ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - A trial that could send Georgia lawmakers back to the drawing board to craft new political districts began Tuesday in downtown Atlanta.

If a federal judge rules in favor of a coalition of plaintiffs like the American Civil Liberties Union and some religious groups, it would indicate Georgia’s maps are unfair to Black and minority voters and must be changed.

The maps were most recently drawn in 2021, a year after the U.S. census released new data. The survey showed that since 2010 – the last time census information was gathered – Georgia added more than 367,000 Black voters and lost around 50,000 white voters.

Yet, when the maps were drawn by the state’s GOP-majority legislature, a majority-Black district disappeared, raising questions of voting power held by the state’s growing minority population.

“In most states, and certainly here across the south, redistricting is very much a political process,” said Charles Bullock, a University of Georgia political science professor who also authored the book Redistricting: The Most Political Activity in America. “It is done by the legislature, and legislators are going to take care of their own.”

Coincidentally, also on Tuesday, a court in Alabama ruled that lawmakers there must redraw the state’s maps over the very same issues at hand in Georgia with minority voters.

At the center of the issues in both states, as well as similar challenges to maps in Louisiana, Texas, Florida and others, is the 1965 Voting Rights Act – specifically Section 2.

“The underlying standard in a Section 2 lawsuit is do minority voters have a chance equal to that of white voters to choose their candidates that they want,” Bullock said.

Those who want the maps to stay unchanged argue that race shouldn’t be a factor in crafting district maps. GOP leaders in Georgia’s legislature were quick to note that public hearings were held and input was sought from voters in each district before the lines were drawn.

If federal Judge Steve Jones rules for the plaintiffs, they’ll have to be redone, likely during a special session so as not to interfere with the regular business of a legislative session. If lawmakers can’t draw maps that adequately represent the state’s minority voters, the court could step in.

“The legislature will get the first crack if indeed Jones finds that there’s a problem here,” Bullock added. “But if the legislature doesn’t respond, then the court can draw districts.”

The impacts could reach far beyond even statewide elections. With the 2024 vote about a year away, new maps and new congressional districts in Georgia and other states could shift the balance of power in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“Alabama, Texas, Florida, Louisiana, South Carolina maybe, you might be talking about half a dozen or so additional minority legislators who are almost certainly going to be Democrats,” Bullock said. “It has potential to switch control of the U.S. House.”

In order to successfully argue the case, plaintiffs have to prove three themes within Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

They have to prove what’s known as a “numerosity standard,” proving there’s a minority population sufficiently large enough that you could draw a district there. They also have to show that the minority population is politically cohesive, often voting together for the same candidates. Finally, they’d have to show that the minority population usually loses because of a white bloc vote in a district that may not even be majority-white.

The trial is expected to last around two weeks.