ACLU of Georgia

Georgia Legislators Pursue Redistricting to Protect Their Seats

By Mark Niesse | Atlanta Journal-Constitution | March 6, 2019 

Neighboring state representatives from Gwinnett County — a Democrat and a Republican — are trying to secure their seats by redistricting themselves into safer maps.
Republican state Rep. Chuck Efstration and Democratic state Rep. Donna McLeod sponsored a bill this week to redraw the lines between their districts. Efstration’s district would gain rural neighborhoods near Bethlehem and Dacula, while McLeod’s district would become more suburban.
They introduced the legislation, House Bill 564, as Thursday’s deadline approaches for bills to pass either the House or the Senate. But McLeod said Wednesday she plans to remove her support for the bill after hearing concerns from voters.
The bill protects incumbent politicians and leaves out voters from the process, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia. 
Efstration’s seat is more vulnerable than McLeod’s, based on November’s election results. Efstration won re-election by nearly 7 percentage points, while McLeod won by almost 17 percentage points.
“This is going to make it a little bit easier for him to win because it brings most of the rural area back, but it also secures the district in our column as well,” McLeod, who represents the Lawrenceville area, said Tuesday. 
McLeod said her district is also competitive. Before winning the race for an open seat, McLeod had lost by 222 votes when she challenged former Republican state Rep. Joyce Chandler in 2016.
Redistricting normally happens once every decade, but legislators previously redrew districts for Chandler’s benefit in 2015. 
“Since then, there have been complaints that the lines shouldn’t have been changed,” said Efstration, who represents the Dacula area. “So, the representatives from these two districts simply agreed to restore the previous district lines. … It doesn’t favor one political party over the other.”
The redistricting bill is sponsored by four Democrats and one Republican. It could still move forward before Thursday’s deadline for bills to pass either the House or Senate.
A nonpartisan redistricting commission should take control from politicians, said Andrea Young, executive director for the ACLU of Georgia. 
Senate Resolution 52 and House Resolution 369 propose an amendment to the Georgia Constitution, called the Democracy Act, to create an independent redistricting body. Neither resolution has received a hearing.
“The Democracy Act changes the process that allows politicians to meet in secret and manipulate the boundaries of legislative districts to their own benefit,” Young said. “Our democracy only works when our legislators reflect the values, diversity, and priorities of the people they represent.”
— Staff writer Tyler Estep contributed to this article.