(The Center Square) – The Georgia House approved a new legislative map for state House districts Wednesday despite overwhelming opposition from Democrats.
The House approved the map, 99-79, along party lines. Democrats said the map was drafted in haste and offered a "better" alternative. Republicans said the map is fair and follows all of the legal guidelines for redistricting.
"We also very interestingly have provided the most public input and time on the map consideration that I could find in the record of the House," Legislative & Congressional Reapportionment Chair Rep. Bonnie Rich, R-Suwanee, said.
Lawmakers must reconstruct the maps every 10 years to correspond with U.S. Census Bureau data. Last year's census showed Georgia's population grew by 1 million people from 2010 to 2020. It showed population growth in urban areas and population loss in rural areas. The data was delayed by five months because of the COVID-19 pandemic and natural disasters.
The House Legislative & Congressional Reapportionment Committee started town halls as early as spring to get input from the public. The committee also received around 900 public comments, which Rich said was considered in the drafting of the map. Democrats, however, said the committee rushed the maps and drew them in secret.
House Minority Leader James Beverly, D-Macon, pointed out the approved map was released one hour before the committee's meeting Monday. It was approved by the committee Tuesday before clearing the rules committee and the House on Wednesday.
"Public comment on this map, including from Republicans, was overwhelmingly negative," Beverly said. "It was promptly ignored. Republicans voted the map out of committee on partisan lines without making a single change to the map after hearing from the people."
Residents and advocates asked the committee to prolong the process to give them more time to review the map. Many argued the draft did not consider the state's new racial demographics and separated communities of interest.
Republican map drafters rebuked the claims Wednesday. Rich touted the map's 5% deviation. She said it includes 76 majority nonwhite districts and reduces county splits and incumbent pairing. Still, Democrats slammed the map for splitting 184 precincts, which they said separates communities of interest.
According to Loyola Marymount University's Loyola Law School, a community of interest is a neighborhood or group of people "who have common policy concerns and would benefit from being maintained in a single district."
"Many of those precincts appear to have been split either for partisan purposes or to harm minority voters," Beverly said.
The Democratic caucus also drafted a map in response to the Republican-led committee's version. The Democratic proposal includes more majority-minority districts than the approved map. It reverses the pairing of Democrat incumbents in Gwinnett County, which saw the most growth over the decade. Beverly said it considers public feedback and reflects communities of interest.
"Now, I want the people of Georgia to know that there's a better map available. It's out there. It's on the website, but the rules of this body of structures so that we can not even bring it to the floor," Beverly said. "We cannot offer it as an amendment. It would not get a vote if it did. It just might pass."
Rich said Democrats were advised not to meet with her to discuss the maps, but she included the recommendations from those who did.
The map also must be approved by the Senate and Gov. Brian Kemp to become law.