The Georgia General Assembly will return to the Capitol Aug. 15 for a special session to vote on new legislative and congressional districts.
A lot has changed since the Legislature last met to redistrict the state in 2001. The population has grown and changed. And this time around, the Republican Party is in control of the process.
Legislators will adjust district lines so that each district has about the same number of people. That means a member of the state House of Representatives will ideally represent 53,820 people. A state Senate district will now encompass 172,994 people.
Sen. Fran Millar, a Republican from Dunwoody, said South Georgia will likely lose House seats.
“All the growth is north of Atlanta,” Millar said. “We’ve been traditionally a rural-controlled state but that is changing. The control of the state is now in north Georgia.”
Georgia also will gain a new seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. It is expected to be in the northeastern part of the state, where the majority of the growth has occurred.
Millar, who represents parts of DeKalb and Gwinnett counties, said he needs to add 20,000 people into his district.
“Everything is moving north. I probably need to go north into Fulton and East into Gwinnett,” Millar said.
Sen. Mitch Seabaugh, chairman of the Senate Reapportionment and Redistricting Committee, said he has spent the weeks leading up to the special session meeting with senators and drawing up districts that meet legal requirements. He hopes to have a map ready to present at the start of the session.
“The House works on drawing their maps, we draw Senate maps and then we have a courtesy pass,” Seabaugh said, explaining that each chamber typically approves the map drawn by the other without changes. “The congressional, that’s where we both have to agree on same map. Each chamber can introduce their own version and pass the version. But ultimately, we have to go to conference committee and have some agreement among chambers and then vote on the exact same map.”
Some officials are estimating the session will last about three weeks.
For months, a joint reapportionment committee traveled the state seeking public input on the way the state ought to be parceled out.
At the 12 public hearings, the group heard from Georgia residents that they want to keep the process fair and make sure that communities of interest, or those with common lifestyles and beliefs, are drawn in the same district.
For example, several Buckhead residents asked the committee to look at reestablishing a Senate district to represent Buckhead and part of Sandy Springs as a community of interest.
Seabaugh said the biggest challenge so far has been trying to find a balance in what everyone would like to see in the new districts.
“You can’t give everybody everything they want, whether they be legislators or people in the public, and that’s tough,” Seabaugh said.
Redistricting is a process that happens once every 10 years. When population data is released by the U.S. Census Bureau, the general assembly must redraw the district lines around the state to account for shifts and changes in population. Reapportionment is when Congress reassigns seats in the U.S. House of Representatives among the states based on population.
Many legislators in the Atlanta area will likely see their districts grow.
“I’ve seen a draft map for my district and DeKalb County as well,” said Rep. Elena Parent, a Democrat representing a portion of north DeKalb County. “My district needed to grow by about 10,000 people, which is 20 percent new residents that needed to be added, so I would say that it does look different.”
Rep. Wendell Willard, a Republican from Sandy Springs and a veteran of the House of Representatives, said he is pleased with the preliminary map of his district.
“I’ll be picking up more of my Sandy Springs area, what I call the panhandle area. I’m always glad to have more Sandy Springs,” Willard said. “I don’t think we’re picking up any new members in north Fulton (County), it’s mostly a reconfiguration of this area. I expect probably the early part of session there will be a full map available.”
Willard is going through the redistricting process for the second time.
“I went through it 10 years ago and from my perspective it will be a little different now. The Republicans had no say 10 years ago,” Willard said. “I think last time the Democrats were keeping in mind trying to keep their control. There was all kind of crazy line drawing, dividing up counties, that really surprised people.”
He said so far, he feels more comfortable with the process this time around.
‘I think they’ve been quite open with holding hearings and receiving input from different communities around the state,” Willard said. “We got a lot of members over the last 10 years. Less than 20 percent of us were there 10 years ago. It’s a new experience for a lot of people. We’re having good open hearings and I’m looking forward to seeing what the committee working with this is doing.”
Parent said she is hopeful the maps will reflect what Georgia residents said they want during public hearings.
“The emphasis should really be on voters, not on political parties,” Parent said. “I want to see fairness in the process that accurately represents the people of Georgia.”