First, let’s get the “well, they did it, too” argument out of the way.
While Republican lawmakers in the now-Republican-dominated Georgia General Assembly are taking heat for drawing legislative redistricting maps that favor their party, Democrats can’t credibly mount a “clean hands” defense.
In 2001, with Democrats holding the governor’s office and slim majorities in both chambers of the Georgia General Assembly, proposed new legislative maps included relative oddities such as multimember legislative districts. The Democrat-controlled reapportionment process produced three lawsuits, and it wasn’t until 2004, after special legislative sessions during the three-year process that cost taxpayers $2 million, that a new set of final maps was put in place.
Still, while it’s true that the current round of redistricting hasn’t yet produced the same degree of drama as the 2001 reapportionment circus, it does offer some evidence of the unwieldiness – if not the outright failure – of a reapportionment process that turns the political process on its head by, in effect, allowing legislators to pick their constituents …
While it may, sadly enough, be unrealistic to expect state lawmakers to take a look at a different approach to redistricting – after all, why would the party in power at any given time want to give up its dominance over reapportionment? – there is a clear framework for a reapportionment process that puts the concerns of the voters ahead of the concerns of the politicians.
That framework is articulated clearly by the Georgia Redistricting Alliance, a coalition of nonprofit, nonpartisan groups including Common Cause Georgia, the Georgia Women’s Action for New Directions, and the League of Women Voters. The coalition’s standards for equitable redistricting, in addition to measures guarding against diluting minority voting strength and taking political considerations out of the process, include drawing districts that are compact, that comprise contiguous territory and that use existing county and municipal boundaries, geographic boundaries and communities of similar interests, when feasible.
Those are reasonable standards that should be acceptable to Georgians interested in responsive and responsible government.
To the extent that state lawmakers ignore those standards, they also ignore the best interests of the people of this state.