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Under judge's order, Georgia proposes map with two new Black-majority districts

Under judge's order, Georgia proposes map with two new Black-majority districts

Georgia Senate Republicans are proposing a new map that would create two Black-majority voting districts, but would probably retain Republicans’ 33-23 edge in the General Assembly’s upper chamber, in an effort to fix a map a judge said illegally dilutes Black votes.

The proposed districts, released Monday, would increase the number of Black majority districts by eliminating two white-majority districts currently represented by Democrats. State Sens. Jason Esteves and Elena Parent, both of Atlanta, would find themselves living in Black-majority districts if the redrawn map goes through.

A special session on redrawing state legislative and congressional districts is scheduled to begin Wednesday after U.S. District Judge Steve Jones in October ordered Georgia to draw Black majorities in one additional congressional district, two additional state Senate districts, and five additional state House districts.

It’s unclear whether Jones would accept the map if it passes. He ordered two additional Black Senate districts in the southern part of metro Atlanta, finding 10 state Senate districts illegal under Section 2 of the federal Voting Rights Act. Monday’s Republican proposal left two of those districts untouched — a district in Clayton and Fayette counties, represented by Democrat Valencia Seay of Riverdale, and the district stretching across Fayette, Spalding, Pike and Lamar counties, represented by Republican Marty Harbin of Tyrone.

Some other districts declared illegal saw changes that did little to affect their racial or partisan balance. By contrast, Republicans propose redrawing a number of Democratic-held districts in Fulton and Cobb counties the judge didn’t single out.

Overall, it appears no current senators would be drawn into the same district under the plan. That’s important because under Georgia law, state legislators must have lived in their districts for a year before they are elected. Because 2024’s election is less than a year away, it’s too late for anyone to move to another district to run.

Their drastically different districts could invite Democratic primary challenges to Parent and Esteves. Parent is the second-ranking Democrat in the Senate and Esteves is the treasurer of the state Democratic Party.

Parent declined comment Monday, saying she would speak Tuesday when Democrats introduce their own proposal. That plan is unlikely to pass the majority Republican legislature, but could become part of legal argument over whether lawmakers’ proposed remedy meets the terms of Jones’ order.

Ken Lawler, chair of Fair Districts GA, which seeks to reduce partisan gerrymandering, said that he thought the districts met Jones’ goal of creating additional Black majority districts.

“With respect to complying, they get a pass,” Lawler said.

However, he said Republicans shouldn’t change other districts to try to retain their current majority, saying those were like other mid-decade changes Georgia Republicans have undertaken in recent decades to pad their control.

No House or congressional plans were released Monday, although the House Committee on Reapportionment and Redistricting said it would hold a Wednesday hearing on a new House plan.

A new Black-majority congressional district, combined with similar rulings in other Southern states, could help Democrats reclaim the U.S. House in 2024. New legislative districts could narrow Republican majorities in Georgia.

It’s unclear if the GOP can legally prevent Democrats from gaining a congressional seat, along the lines of what they’re seeking to do in the state Senate. Jones wrote in his order that Georgia can’t fix its problems “by eliminating minority opportunity districts elsewhere.”

The state has pledged to appeal Jones’ order. If the state later wins an appeal, Georgia could have new districts in 2024 and revert to current lines in 2026.

Republicans control nine of Georgia’s 14 congressional seats and 102 of the 180 state House seats.

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