(GA Recorder) — A state House committee approved Georgia’s GOP-drawn congressional maps on a party-line vote Wednesday, teeing up the map for a full vote Thursday.
That could be the final vote of a special legislative session that began Nov. 29 after U.S. District Court Judge Steve Jones ruled that lawmakers’ last redistricting attempt in 2021 didn’t protect Black voters’ rights under the Voting Rights Act.
Jones asked for new state House, Senate, and Congressional maps on his desk by Friday. The House and Senate maps have made it through both chambers despite Democratic opposition and await Gov. Brian Kemp’s signature. The new Congressional borders are also likely to sail through, but all three maps have an uncertain future.
Democrats say Jones is likely to find they do not fix the problems with the previous maps and reject them, in which case the court would appoint an expert to redraw them without respect for incumbents’ current district lines.
At the same time, Republicans are crossing their fingers that a pending appeal of Jones’ order will find success, allowing them to go back to the maps they approved in 2021.
In either event, time is running short for Georgians contemplating a run for elected office in 2024, with party primaries scheduled for March.
Speaking to reporters after the hearing, House Redistricting Committee Chair Rob Leverett said he is “cautiously optimistic that we’ve done what the judge wants.”
“I just don’t want to second guess Judge Jones,” he added. “Judge Jones knows well what his order said. I think he was very clear about what it meant, but I would not presume to tell the judge what he meant.”
Leverett said lawmakers considered a number of factors, including keeping communities of interest intact and trying to draw compact, contiguous districts with equal numbers of people in them.
“We tried to balance all those factors as best we can and draw districts that we think are good for the citizens of Georgia,” he said.
Democrats say the House map moves too many voters into new districts and pairs incumbents – two sets of Democrats and one pair of Republicans would be placed in the same district under the new maps.
The Senate map adds new majority-Black districts as Jones ordered, but Democrats said the judge will strike it down because many Black voters in those districts were drawn in from previously-existing majority-Black districts, which they say disregards the goal of helping people in areas where they have been disenfranchised.
Democrats also cry foul over the proposed Congressional map, which creates a new majority Black district but dismantles another majority-minority district.
House Minority Leader James Beverly predicted the three maps will equal three strikes from Jones.
“I think that each one of them went beyond the scope of the order,” he said. “I think the judge is going to say, it’s going to be up or down, either it complied with my order or didn’t. And if it didn’t, then the special master is going to start. So I think it’s just up or down when it gets to the judge, and I think he’s going to say down for all three. So yeah, special master, here we go.”