ATLANTA (AP) — Brushing aside concerns that they may be breaking law that protects coalitions of nonwhite voters, Georgia state senators on Tuesday passed a new congressional map that would maintain a likely 9-5 GOP edge in the state’s delegation.
The Senate voted 32-22 to pass the plan, which seeks a wholesale reconfiguration of a suburban Atlanta district now represented by Democrat Lucy McBath. It goes to the House for more debate.
Meanwhile, lawmakers gave final passage to maps likely to keep each chamber of the General Assembly under the control of Republicans, sending House and Senate maps to Gov. Brian Kemp for his signature or veto.
Senators voted 32-21 to give final passage to a new state House map, despite Democrat concerns that the map harmed minority coalitions and would likely preserve all but one or two seats in the Republicans current 102-78 House majority.
The House voted 98-71 to pass the Senate map, which aims to keep Republicans 33-23 majority. Democrats lambasted the map, saying it did not do enough to enhance Black opportunities in the 10 districts found to be illegal.
Lawmakers were called into special session after U.S. District Judge Steve Jones ruled in October that Georgia’s congressional, state Senate and state House maps violate federal law by diluting Black voting power. Jones mandated Black majorities in one additional congressional district, two additional state Senate districts and five additional state House districts. Jones instructed lawmakers to create the new congressional district on metro Atlanta’s western side.
It’s one in a series of redistricting sessions across the South after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the 1964 Voting Rights Act, clearing the way for Black voters to win changes from courts.
Republicans say the plans meet Jones’ requirements to draw more majority-Black districts.
“This map maintains the partisan balance this Legislature endorsed and voted on two years ago while at the same time fully complying with Judge Jones’ order,” said Senate President Pro Tem John Kennedy, a Macon Republican.
But Democrats say all the maps fall short. Sen. Ed Harbison, a Columbus Democrat, lambasted Republicans for how they are treating McBath, saying she “has been shuffled around like a chess piece.”
It’s the second time in two years that Republicans have targeted McBath, a gun control activist. McBath, who is Black, initially won election in a majority-white district in Atlanta’s northern suburbs. Georgia Republicans in 2021 took that district, once represented by Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and drew it into much more Republican territory. At the same time, they made another district more Democratic. McBath jumped into that district and beat Democratic incumbent Carolyn Bordeaux in a 2022 primary.
“No amount of smoke and mirrors hides the truth,” Harbison said. “Black voting power has been diluted in these maps, just as they were in 2021. These proposals do little, if anything, to improve the ability of Black voters to elect candidates of their choice.”
Republicans say those complaints are coming from frustrated Democrats who are trying to aid their party, but note that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled partisan gerrymandering is legal.
“All of the arguments against this are partisan arguments, people who are angry because they want to change the partisan balance to increase the number of Democratic representatives in Congress for the state of Georgia,” said state Sen. Bill Cowsert, an Athens Republican.
Republicans claim McBath’s district isn’t protected by the Voting Rights Act. They argue that only majority-Black districts are protected.
“There’s no concern about eliminating another minority opportunity district.” said Senate Reapportionment and Redistricting Committee Chairwoman Shelly Echols, a Gainesville Republican.
But that ignores an 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision that says districts with coalitions of minorities are protected.
“They created their own definition, one that only benefitted them,” said Sen. Sonya Halpern, an Atlanta Democrat.
Republicans, though, noted that Democrats failed to offer a map of their own in committee, accusing Democrats of wanting to punt the decision to the judge.
“The opposing party has chosen instead to, No. 1, criticize, offer nothing, and No. 3, impute ill will to the process that we engaged in,” Kennedy said.
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