In less than 40 days, Georgians will exercise their biennial right to choose their representatives in the General Assembly and Congress. Unfortunately, in far too many cases, that choice has been made for them by legislators who drew gerrymandered maps last November.
These maps were designed in an opaque process that favored the majority party. Unfortunately, this is nothing new; in the last three redistricting cycles dating back to 2001, we find clear evidence that both parties put their thumb on the scale.
This is clearly not what voters want, and a just-released poll provides overwhelming evidence. The ACLU of Georgia, Common Cause Georgia, Fair Districts GA and the League of Women Voters of Georgia commissioned a pollster to ask voters what they think about redistricting.
Over 75% of Georgians across all political parties want maps that prioritize competitive districts. Unfortunately, we don’t have them. In the 2020 election for General Assembly, only 10% of the races were won by less than 10 percentage points. The rest were either lopsided wins (38%) or not even contested (52%).
Projections indicate that the new maps aren’t any better.
Significant majorities of voters want maps that preserve their “communities of interest”, such as neighborhoods and groups with common social, cultural, or economic values. This is true across rural, suburban and urban communities in Georgia. Yet our maps for the General Assembly split half or more of our medium-sized cities into more districts than necessary based on population. An effort to define over 400 communities of interest was largely ignored by map-drawers.
Nearly two-thirds of voters want maps that reflect Georgia’s racial diversity, and this holds for all racial groups in the survey, including 57% of whites. Legislators were told in November that the maps were deficient on this point, and now they face five lawsuits in federal court. A judge’s preliminary ruling in February for three of the suits concurred with this complaint.
It’s no wonder that Georgia voters express very low confidence with today’s redistricting process; less than a quarter rate the maps as mostly fair, and only 35% are even partially satisfied with the process overall.
The survey echoes testimony provided by Georgians during the legislative hearings held in summer 2021 and the special redistricting session in the fall. It’s a shame that legislators didn’t take these suggestions to heart.
How do we fix this?
The poll shows 58% of voters support changing Georgia law to mandate nonpartisan map drawing. This view differs somewhat by political party, but among voters expressing an opinion, the majority say yes. This could be enacted into law in 2023.
Another much-discussed option is turning the process over to an independent citizen commission, as a few other states have done. Fifty-six percent favor this. However, this requires amending Georgia’s constitution, requiring a two-thirds vote of the legislature and placing the question on the next statewide ballot. Voters are clearly eager for this, but legislators rue the idea of giving up this power.
How do we get legislators to take up these changes? Voters need to make clear to candidates that this is important to them. Fair redistricting is an issue that underlies all others. We can’t enact policies that reflect the will of the voters if legislators believe their election is a foregone conclusion.
Fortunately, voters can now see which candidates are committing to reform redistricting, courtesy of a pledge campaign. Fair Districts GA is asking all candidates for relevant state offices to pledge to a set of fair redistricting principles that respond to voters’ wishes. In fact, voters can help by asking candidates to sign the pledge. More information on the poll and pledge are available at FairDistrictsGA.org.
After decades of unfair map-drawing, voters have now clearly expressed their demands for reform. It is time for candidates to heed them. Take the pledge.
Ken Lawler is chair of Fair Districts GA.