ATLANTA – The General Assembly’s Republican majorities gave final passage to new legislative district maps Tuesday over objections from minority Democrats that the state House and Senate maps violate the Voting Rights Act.
Voting along party lines, the Georgia House of Representatives adopted a new state Senate map senators had passed late last week. A short time later, the Senate approved a new state House map House lawmakers had passed last Friday.
Tuesday’s votes completed action on revisions to two of three 2021 redistricting maps U.S. District Judge Steve Jones ruled out of compliance with the Voting Rights Act in a decision handed down in October. The two legislative maps now head to Gov. Brian Kemp’s desk for his signature.
The third map containing new congressional district lines cleared the state Senate Tuesday in another party-line vote. The House will vote on the congressional map later this week, wrapping up a special redistricting session Kemp called following the judge’s ruling.
As ordered by Jones, the new House map creates five additional Black-majority districts, two in the southern end of metro Atlanta, one in the western portion of the metro region, and two in and around Macon.
“It fully complies with Judge Jones’ order,” said Sen. Bo Hatchett, R-Cornelia, vice chairman of the Senate Reapportionment and Redistricting Committee.
But Senate Minority Leader Gloria Butler said Republicans went beyond the areas the judge identified as in need of redrawing to reduce Black voting strength in several other districts.
Democrats also complained that the House maps pair four sets of incumbents who would have to run against each other, including three pairs of Democrats but only one pair of Republicans.
Similar arguments divided House Republicans and Democrats during Tuesday’s debate over the proposed state Senate map.
Rep. Rob Leverette, R-Elberton, chairman of the House Reapportionment and Redistricting Committee, said Republicans complied with Jones’ order that they create two additional Black-majority Senate districts in the southern end of metro Atlanta. Unlike the House map, the Senate map did not pair any incumbents, he said.
“This plan complies with the order and fulfills our obligation as a General Assembly,” Leverette said.
But Rep. Saira Draper, D-Atlanta, said the Senate map accomplished the goal of complying with the court order by moving almost as many Black voters out of existing Black-majority districts as into the two new Black-majority districts.
“This proposal is nothing more than an effort to maintain the status quo,” Draper said.
The Senate map the House adopted Tuesday is expected to allow Republicans to maintain their current 33-23 majority in the upper legislative chamber. Democrats had put forth an alternative map likely to help them gain two seats.
But Leverette said scoring political gains is not the purpose of the Voting Rights Act.
“The Voting Rights Act doesn’t protect political parties,” he said. “It protects voters.”