Unofficial and Official Forums on Redistricting:
May 14, 2 p.m., LWV Forum on redistricting, Holiday Inn Express, Newton County/Covington
May 16, 5 p.m. - 7 p.m., Official town hall meeting on redistricting, Athens
June 7, ACLU workshop on redistricting, Downtown Atlanta. 404-523-2727
June 14, 5 p.m. - 7 p.m., Official town hall meeting on redistricting, 111 Davis Street, Stockbridge
June 30, 5 p.m. - 7 p.m., Official town hall meeting on redistricting, Atlanta
Census: Rockdale sees growth, racial changes (March 17, 2011)
Drawing district lines along common lifestyles or economic interests and having representation that mainly served one county were some of the wishes expressed by attendees at the League of Women Voters forum on redistricting Tuesday night.
Guest speakers that attended included Tracey-Ann Nelson, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Georgia, William Perry, director of Common Cause, Nancy Abudu, senior staff and counsel for the southern regional office of the ACLU, District 43, state Sen. Ronald Ramsey, former District 17 state Sen. John Douglas – who was representing District 17 state Sen. Rick Jeffares, District 109 state Rep. Steve Davis, District 92 state Rep. Pam Stephenson, District 93 state Rep. Dee Dawkins-Haigler, District 94 state Sen. Dar’shun Kendrick, District 95 state Rep. Pam Dickerson. State Sen. Robert Brown of District 26 was slated to attend but had a death in the family. Davis was filling in for Redistricting Committee Chair Rep. Roger Lane, said Stephenson.*
Because of population changes, Georgia is slated to gain an additional Congressional seat. A few state House and Senate seats will likely shift from the southern, rural regions of the state to the northern regions, due to population shifts.
Former District 17 state Sen. John Douglas explained the ideal size for a state Senate district was about 173,000 people. District 17 has about 73,000 people too many, said Douglas. District 43 has about 177,000 people, said state Sen. Ronald Ramsey.
The ideal size for a state House district is about 53,000 people.
Legislators would likely start with redrawing Congressional districts, and House and Senate districts would be redrawn at the same time, said District 92 state Rep. Pam Stephenson.
After the districts are redrawn, the maps are presented for approval by the Department of Justice, since Georgia is one of the states that falls under the Voting Rights Act.
Tracey-Ann Nelson of the League of Women Voters of Georgia explained there are three main times to give public input on the redistricting process: before a joint committee in the General Assembly, during the official public town hall meetings/forums on redistricting held around the state by the General Assembly, and during the 60-day public comment period while the Department of Justice reviews district maps.
William Perry, director of Common Cause, said constituents were not being fully represented because so many districts were drawn to favor one side or the other. Last year, 54 of the 56 state senate races were non-competitive, where one candidate received 60 percent of the vote or more. Of those, 33 of those had no opposition running.
“These districts have been drawn according to party interests than people’s interests,” he said.
Of the more than 30 attendees, many expressed a belief that the factor that motivated redistricting was preservation of incumbent power and questioned whether public opinion would change much. Others expressed desires to see redistricting done in a more ideal, representative way.
One of the few attendees from Newton County said the big counties and big powers usually got their way; he had seen examples where federal dollars slated for Newton and Walton counties had ended up going to transportation projects in Clayton instead.
David Shipp, chair of the governmental committee in the Conyers-Rockdale Chamber of Commerce, said he would like to see legislators that mainly represented Rockdale.
“Rockdale County has been represented by DeKalb County,” he said, referring to the fact most of the representatives districts stretch into DeKalb. “I have a concern our representatives won’t represent the concerns of Rockdale County,” he said.
There are two areas in particular, he said, where DeKalb’s interests might conflict with Rockdale’s interests: the regional transportation sales tax issue and regional water independence. Money from a regional transportation sales tax would likely go to bigger projects that would benefit bigger counties, such as DeKalb, while only 15 percent of the tax money went back to the local county.
Rockdale had invested in a reservoir and water treatment plant. “The rest of the state has not been so insightful,” he said.
Rockdale's population in the 2010 Census was about 85,000. Ramsey, Douglas and several representatives pointed out Rockdale’s population was too big to have only one representative and too small to have a sole senator dedicated just to Rockdale.
"You're going to be tied to DeKalb or Newton, one way or another. No way around that," said Douglas, referring to senate districts.
Rockdale resident Angie Tracey said in her past experience as a staffer for the eighth Congressional district in Georgia, she saw how difficult it was for an elected official to adequately represent widely different areas, from rural to suburban and urban interests. She urged districts to be drawn according to common lifestyles and interests.
Speakers also discussed the change from UGA’s Carl Vinson Institute to a private firm Troutman Sanders as the agent to redraw the lines according to legislative instructions.
Davis expressed approval of the change and said the redistricting maps that were thrown out by federal courts last time around were drawn by the Carl Vinson Institute. “Why keep doing the same thing?” he asked.
Perry said “We’ve removed a layer of transparency whether we’re happy with it or not.” He pointed out the Carl Vinson Institute was drawing the districts according to legislators’ instructions but that the Institute was at least subject to Open Records requirements. Members of the public could find out what those instructions were. However, a private firm was probably not subject to the same Open Records laws.
Attendee Don Meyers asked speakers if the Voting Rights Act protected white populations as well.
Nancy Abudu of the ACLU said “Although historically the Voting Rights Act is designed to protect minority voting strength, the definition of who falls within the category of minority has not been limited to African American voters.” She cited a case in Mississippi where federal courts found African American candidates were in violation of the Voting Rights Act for diluting the voting strength of white voters in redistricting.
Douglas said he felt the Voting Rights Act was an anachronism. “In the 21st century, the Voting Rights Act itself is discriminatory… While there were errors in the past, discrimination in the past, most of that is gone now.”
*Rockdale-Newton League of Women Voters Vice President Carole Copeland said in an email afterwards that Rep. Pamela Stephenson was "very involved helping" to find panelists for the forum.