ATLANTA (AP) — In three weeks, the Georgia Legislature has sailed through a special session focused primarily on the once-a-decade process of approving the state's new legislative and congressional boundaries.
The Legislature adjourned Wednesday after the Senate approved the proposed congressional map, which the House endorsed last week. Gov. Nathan Deal has already signed off on the legislative maps. All three plans must be submitted to the Department of Justice or federal court for approval under the Voting Rights Act because of past civil rights problems in Georgia and several other Southern states.
The Senate approved the congressional plan by a 34-21 vote, split along partisan lines with two Republicans voting against the map.
This is the first year the partisan process has been under GOP control. Georgia's growing population gained the state an additional congressional seat, drawn in the northeast part of the state to favor a Republican candidate.
Republicans have said all three plans will pass muster with the federal government, saying that both the congressional and legislative plans added districts with a majority of black voters.
"We have adhered to the Voting Rights Act in putting together this plan," Senate redistricting Chairman Mitch Seabaugh, R-Sharpsburg, told his colleagues before the vote. "We have not retrogressed with this plan."
Throughout the process, Democrats have vowed a legal challenge to the maps, saying they dilute minority voting strength and accusing their colleagues of political gerrymandering. Sen. Jason Carter, D-Decatur, told senators that Republicans have distorted the Voting Rights Act for political gain.
"The majority party has used it as an excuse to destroy multiracial coalitions at every opportunity," Carter said. "If the majority party doesn't like the partisan results that come from protecting multiracial coalitions, the answer is not to destroy the Voting Rights Act. The answer is to build some multiracial coalitions of your own."
Deal, state Attorney General Sam Olens and legislative leaders are set to meet Thursday to discuss how to proceed with the maps. They can either be sent to the Department of Justice or the federal courts for approval under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.
The maps will not take effect until they are approved. At that point, groups that oppose them for other reasons — including Democratic lawmakers — could file legal challenges.
House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams signaled that Democrats would oppose the maps in court. Carter, an attorney who has litigated voting rights issues, said Georgia is a different state today than two or three decades ago, when it may have been necessary to put a large number of black voters into a district to help them elect their candidate of choice.
"Today, maximizing the number of majority-minority districts has started to be about isolating the black community from its coalition partners," Abrams said.
The special session, which focused on redistricting, began Aug. 15. Lawmakers also voted to freeze the gas tax, but ducked a vote to move the public vote on a transportation tax referendum from the July primary to the November general election ballot.