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Newton commissioners say no to state panel’s proposed district changes
County's delegation apparently moving to gain General Assembly approval of separate version of map
Gold Dome
The Georgia State Capitol building in Atlanta. - photo by Tom Spigolon

COVINGTON, Ga. — Newton County commissioners Tuesday voted not to approve changes to their district lines that a state panel proposed for them based on population shifts since 2010.

However, a state senator representing Newton indicated local legislators are also working on a version of the district map and it could be sent for Senate consideration soon.

District 17 State Sen. Brian Strickland, R-McDonough, said Wednesday the county's legislative delegation has been working on a map that should be finalized in draft form.

"I have personally been in conversations with my colleagues in both chambers over this past week in finalizing a draft that I hope we will file in the Senate next week," Strickland said. 

He said he was "not certain what is going on with the Board of Commissioners and the map they were considering" but he felt "confident that our legislative delegation will get this done without any issues." 

The county's legislative delegation includes two state senators and four representatives whose districts includes parts of Newton. Members are split evenly between Republicans and Democrats. 

Republicans control both houses of the General Assembly, which likely will give final approval to any map favored by Republicans in the delegation.

The Constitution requires the General Assembly to pass an updated redistricting map every 10 years to ensure population is roughly equal in each district based on the latest federal Census count. 

Newton commissioners voted 3-2 along political party lines Tuesday not to approve the proposed map, which was drawn by a legislative reapportionment committee. It moves neighborhoods in eight separate areas into neighboring County Commission and School Board districts.

The largest land transfers occur in northwest Newton where Newton High School and nearby neighborhoods connecting to Kirkland and Crowell roads would be shifted from District 4 to District 3.

Other large-scale changes include moving industrial areas around Avenue of Champions in northeast Covington from District 4 to District 5 — a change the reapportionment panel made to an earlier version to keep the city of Oxford entirely within one district, said county GIS director Tim Lawrence.

In addition, primarily rural areas around Poplar Mill Road would move from District 1 to District 5; an area around Laurel Way off Georgia Hwy. 81 would move from District 1 to 2; and a small area west of Salem Road and north of Old Concord Drive from District 2 to 3.

Before the vote, Jaugstetter told commissioners they were considering a resolution that would "indicate to the local legislative delegation and to the Georgia General Assembly your approval of the map," Jaugstetter said.

"It will request that they introduce that map during this current session and support it through the process," he said.

He said the law does not require a unanimous Board of Commissioners vote for the map but the county's legislative delegation generally "expects" full support before sending it for approval by the full General Assembly.

"I would expect — and I can't say this with absolute certainty —  that if it's less than unanimous, your local delegation may not pursue it diligently," Jaugstetter said. 

Commissioner Stan Edwards said the version of the map the county was considering already had been given to the Newton delegation.

However, some commissioners still appeared unhappy with some of the changes and all Democratic commissioners, including Alana Sanders, J.C. Henderson and Demond Mason, voted against recommending it.

The legislative delegation has the power to draw a new county district map regardless of a local board’s opposition, a state government expert said. 

Charles Bullock, a political expert at the University of Georgia, recently told the Athens Banner-Herald that a county district map could only be challenged in the court system in two areas.

A population challenge could be done based on the general rule that districts have to be within plus or minus 5% of the average population; or if any changes make it more difficult for an area represented by a minority candidate to continue electing minority candidates. 

However, Newton County officials have said the maps the state reapportionment office produced do not appear to violate either of those areas.

Redistricting map December 2021
The state reapportionment office’s draft version of proposed new Newton County commission and school board district lines includes eight areas that were moved into neighboring districts to equalize populations in the five districts based on growth since 2010. - photo by Courtesy of Newton County