Of a million maps, it’s the one favoring those who draw it that counts
By Tom Baxter
It’s a testament to the impact of computerization that for their study of this year’s redistricting in Georgia, the Princeton Gerrymandering Project and Fair Districts GA generated a million legislative and congressional maps to assess the possible outcomes.
To understand what will be at play in the upcoming special redistricting session, however, only three or four maps matter.
The first of these is the map Democrats would draw if they still had the power to do so. That one hasn’t got a snowflake’s chance of passage in the upcoming session, but for reasons we’ll get to shortly, it’s important to keep in the back of our heads as we consider the more likely maps.
More important, because they do have the power, is the Republican map. But which Republicans? The governor, the attorney general and the secretary of state, or the ex-president who badmouthed each one of them at Saturday’s rally in Perry, and his supporters? The rift within the party isn’t going to be center stage in the mapmaking process, but in combination with the geographical problems Republican legislators face this year, it could be a significant factor.
Consider, for example, Rep. Barry Loudermilk’s 11th District in Bartow, Cherokee and parts of Cobb County. Part of his district borders on those of Democrats Lucy McBath and Carolyn Bourdeaux, who are the Republicans’ prime targets this year. To make their districts less electable for Democrats, they will need to take some Republican precincts out of Loudermilk’s district and put them in the battleground districts.
But that won’t be a problem, because most of Loudermilk’s district is surrounded by those of Republicans Marjorie Taylor Green and Andrew Clyde, and he can take some heavily Republican precincts from them… right? Even if you’ve studied chimpanzees in the wild, you are unlikely to have seen territorial behavior like that of a politician in a redistricting session. The Republican civil war could make this even worse.
The farther you go north-to-south and in size from Congress to the state Senate to the House, the greater the chance for these frictions to emerge. Which brings us to the incumbents’ map, or as it has been called in previous redistricting sessions, the “real” map. They will be generally loyal to their respective parties, but when it comes to saving their own skins, legislators sometimes find accommodations with the other party, and sometimes come into conflict with the strategies of their own party.
The growth of Metro Atlanta relative to the rest of the state will have the most impact on what the new map looks like, but two areas outside Atlanta also will play a big role.
Southwest Georgia’s 2nd Congressional District, represented by Democrat Sanford Bishop, is the only one of the state’s 14 districts which lost population over the last decade, falling by 2.74 percent, according to a study by the analytical firm HaystaqDNA.
This means Bishop’s district, and more important, the Republican legislative districts in that part of the state, have to grow in area to take in more population, to make the size of all the districts roughly equal. As they expand in area, it becomes harder to carve out districts with safely Republican, white majorities.
On the other side of the state, Central Georgia, encompassed by Republican Jody Hice’s 10th Congressional District, is important in part because Hice is leaving Congress to run for secretary of state. That makes it just a little less of a priority than any of the four Republican districts on its borders, and a tempting target for incumbents is search of more security.
There’s another reason to keep your eye on Central Georgia: over 40 percent of the growth in the state’s Hispanic population was in this part of the state. That’s still not enough in terms of population to equal Metro Atlanta and its western edges, but it’s catching up at a blistering pace. It’s one of the areas to watch over the next decade to measure the pace of Hispanic political participation.
With the demise of the pre-clearance clause of the Voting Rights Act, which required some states to get their maps approved by the Justice Department, there’s going to be an increasing temptation to draw maps that maximize the majority’s advantage at the expense of mostly African-American voters. But while the maps they don’t have to be approved, they can still be challenged in court. More than once this has resulted in dramatic revisions, which is why Republican map drawers would be wise to keep that Democratic dream map in mind.