ATLANTA — Senate Democrats are calling for the creation of a new office that would address the minority party's concerns in this summer's redistricting showdown.
Democrats balked last week as the Legislature's GOP leadership announced the establishment of a Legislative and Congressional Reapportionment Office to handle redistricting. The move ends a long-standing arrangement with the University of Georgia's nonpartisan Carl Vinson Institute of Government.
Democrats complained that they weren't consulted about the decision and say they are concerned about what they see as partisan and unfair changes to the process.
As the fight over redistricting loomed anew, Sen. Robert Brown told his colleagues Monday to look forward to "a very, very difficult process."
"There are going to be a number of people hurt by this," said Brown, the minority leader. "It is my advice to you that you not overreach."
Brown and Democratic Caucus Chair Sen. Doug Stoner indicated that the new redistricting system could run afoul of the Department of Justice. Georgia's redistricting plan is subject to federal scrutiny and approval under the Voting Rights Act.
"They encourage us to do this in a fair manner," Stoner said. "This raises doubts in our minds about the fairness of the process."
The country's congressional and legislative maps are redrawn every decade by local lawmakers for reapportionment, which coincides with the U.S. Census. Georgia's swelling population has gained the state a congressional seat and legislators will return to the Capitol this summer for a special session to deal with redistricting.
Sen. Horacena Tate, who chairs the Senate Democratic Caucus Reapportionment Committee, sent a letter on Monday to House Speaker David Ralston and Senate President Pro Tempore Tommie Williams airing the caucus' concerns.
"In order to ensure that the reapportionment process proceeds in a manner that is fair to all Georgians, I ask that you establish and provide commensurate funding for a separate reapportionment office to provide the necessary consulting, legal and other services for the senators in the minority party," read the letter, which was also sent to Gov. Nathan Deal, Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Senate reapportionment chair Mitch Seabaugh.
Tate asked for a response to her concerns by Thursday.
The issue is also being watched outside the Capitol.
In a statement Monday, the nonpartisan League of Women Voters of Georgia echoed the concerns of Senate Democrats, and said they would lobby for legislation this session to include five standards in the redistricting process: drawing districts that do not favor political parties or incumbents, drawing districts that do not abridge equal opportunities for minorities and encouraging the use the of existing city, county, geographical and community boundaries.