Gov. Nathan Deal signed into law the maps redrawing political boundaries for Georgia’s 236 state lawmakers Wednesday, a change required once a decade to align representation with new U.S. Census data.
While the redistricting process varies by state, the General Assembly in Georgia is tasked with determining the new districts — a process with partisan influence as majority parties aim to carve the state to their favor.
Democrats were the majority during the last redistricting session in 2001, and this year the Republicans had the upper hand. Sen. Buddy Carter, R-Pooler; Sen. Tommie Williams, R-Lyons; Rep. Al Williams, D-Midway; and Rep. Ron Stephens, R-Savannah — representatives whose districts include Liberty County — each agree that representation here remains fair.
“As a political realist, I know the spoils belong to the victor, and the Republicans are the victor — they’re the majority,” Rep. Williams said. “I think the maps as drawn reflect this.”
Keeping Liberty County’s House representation intact — with a single district covering much of the county — was the No. 1 priority for Rep. Williams, and he achieved it. His district, which increased from 165 to 168, was not significantly revamped.
“Overall, the map was not a bad map, except for certain areas where Republicans wanted to make sure and scatter some votes — particularly in the black belt of Georgia,” he said. “If it sounds like sour grapes, to an extent, it is.”
In some areas in the heart of the state, Republicans diluted black voting strength, decreasing it from 41 percent to about 31 percent, he said.
Rep. Williams also said he was please with the leadership of Jimmy A. McDonald, a Bradwell Institute graduate who served as executive director of the Legislative and Congressional Reapportionment Office.
The area’s Republican lawmakers each expressed support for the changes.
Sen. Williams, who serves as senate president pro tempore, said Democrats used a similar strategy 10 years ago. He represents extreme western Liberty County and the areas to its west.
“We split far fewer counties than the Democrats did 10 years ago and did not combine but two senators,” he said. “Ten years ago, they put a number of Republicans in the same district to force them to run against each other.
“What one has to consider is the districts don’t belong to the House member or the Senator — they belong to the people … really, we’re trying to create districts that keep in mind communities of interest,” he added.
Senate districts in the south expanded in size because one Senate seat was reallocated to the metro Atlanta area. Senators here will cover larger territories, Sen. Williams said.
Carter said his district took on more area in Liberty County and lost some territory in Chatham County. Otherwise, District 1 did not change much.
“Overall, I am extremely pleased with the way things turned out for the 1st District,” he said in an email.
Stephens, whose district includes areas near Fleming in northern Liberty County and the majority of Fort Stewart, will see a shift in his Chatham County representation. He is losing territory in southern Savannah but regaining territory he once represented in Bloomingdale and Pooler.
The process, heavily governed by the Voting Rights Act, was fair and aimed at maintaining communities, Stephens said.
“Out of all these 10 million people they had to divide the congressional map over, there was only a deviation of one person,” he said, emphasizing the move toward ensuring each person’s vote has equal weight. There is one caveat: The division was done solely by population and does not take into account the voter population, which may not contain military families registered elsewhere or prisoners ineligible to vote.
“When you stand back and look at the map, it just makes sense — this is communities being drawn together to keep communities together,” Stephens said.
The next redistricting task the General Assembly faces is voting on the new U.S. Congressional map, which is slated to be adopted early next week. If that vote passes, the entire process from beginning to end will have only lasted an “incredibly efficient” three weeks, McDonald said.
“It was one of the most open and transparent processes I’ve ever seen,” McDonald said.
Staff writer Denise Etheridge and the Associated Press contributed to this report.