The 2011 Special Session for Redistricting has come to an end but the questions, comments and discussions have not.
Most of us understand that redistricting is primarily a numbers game. Redistricting was made necessary by the 2010 Census which showed that the redistribution of the national and state populations, since the 2000 Census, would violate the one man, one vote requirement unless districts were redrawn.
Now that the House, Senate, and Congressional maps have passed both houses of the General Assembly and been signed by the governor, Georgia must obtain federal approval under the Voting Rights Act. The process of obtaining approval for the maps is called ‘pre-clearance.' They must be pre-cleared by the Justice Department before the districts can be used in the 2012 elections.
In previous columns I have pointed out that in order to not be accused of retrogression (reducing minority influence), it was necessary to draw 49 state House districts in which blacks are the majority but don't exceed 75 percent (packing). Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, or VRA, is specific with respect to retrogression and packing - Thou Shall Not.
The Republicans believe that the redistricting plans passed by the 2011 Georgia General Assembly are constitutional, legal, and based on the population and political realities which exist in Georgia today. The Democrats drew a map that looked good in a recent publication, and they claimed it did not violate the VRA. A closer look at their plan yields a much different interpretation.
The Democratic Party's alternative plan would have reduced by six the number of "majority-minority" state House districts, which would be retrogressive and in violation of Section 5 of the VRA. Furthermore, the alternative plan created four state House districts with African American populations over 80 percent. This would likely be considered unlawful packing under the VRA.
Democrats say the new maps violate the VRA because they dilute minority voting strength in crossover districts where black voters can form multi-racial coalitions with white voters and others.
What legal rationale has the Democratic Party tried to use to justify its clearly retrogressive alternative proposal and attack the plans passed by the Georgia General Assembly?
It argues that the state of Georgia should move away from protecting "majority-minority" districts and instead create more "cross-over districts" (which Democrats also refer to as "influenced districts") in order to comply with the VRA.
A "cross-over district" is a somewhat nebulous term. It is defined as a district in which minority voters make up less than a majority of the voting-age population, but the minority population is potentially large enough to elect the candidate of its choice with help from majority voters who cross-over to support the minority's preferred candidate. How to prove this has occurred is not clear, and that is the primary reason why such districts have been rejected as a legitimate barometer under the VRA in court decisions.
The Supreme Court examined the issue of "cross-over districts" in the case of Bartlett v.Strickland (2009). The Court looked at whether it could consider such districts when possible violations under Section 2 of the VRA are considered. Justice Kennedy decided against requiring the creation of such districts. He reasoned that to do so "would require courts to make complex political predictions and tie them to race-based assumptions."
Our charge during the Special Session was not to preserve the past but to ensure that we reflect Georgia's present and guide our state into the future. We have done that. The redistricting plans passed by the Georgia General Assembly are constitutional, legal, and based on the population and political realities which exist in Georgia today.
This was the first time in Georgia history that the Republicans have controlled the redistricting process. It was the most open and transparent process of redistricting in Georgia history. It was not unduly partisan. It was not personal. It was simple math.
Rep. Amos Amerson can be reached at 689 N. Chestatee Street, Dahlonega, GA 30533; phone (706) 864-6589; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Or contact Gerald Lewy at (706) 344-7788.