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Georgia lawmakers will redraw political maps that disenfranchised Black voters

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

Georgia lawmakers return to Atlanta this week for a special legislative session to redraw the state's political maps - this after a federal judge said several districts violated the Voting Rights Act and disenfranchised Black voters. Georgia Public Broadcasting's Stephen Fowler joins us now to explain what comes next. Hi, Stephen.

STEPHEN FOWLER, BYLINE: Hey, Sarah.

MCCAMMON: OK, first, walk us through the original redistricting process. How have Georgia and its political maps changed in recent years?

FOWLER: Well, Sarah, in the 2010s, Georgia was a fast-growing state, adding more than a million new residents - most of them in metro Atlanta and most of them also younger and more diverse. But as Georgia's electorate changed, the partisan split in Congress, and the state legislature didn't really keep up. And that's a result of Republican-drawn maps that were done in 2021. Several civil and voting rights groups sued over those maps, pointing to the specific growth in Georgia's Black population over the last decade and arguing the redistricting maps, including state legislative maps that did add a couple more Democratic-leaning districts, were not able to give Black voters the ability to elect candidates of their choice.

MCCAMMON: So last month, a federal judge agreed with those claims and wrote, in essence, that while Georgia has made improvements in increasing political opportunities for Black voters, in some parts of the state, that is not true. What exactly did the ruling say?

FOWLER: Judge Steve Jones found that five of Georgia's 14 congressional districts violated the Voting Rights Act, as well as about two dozen seats in Georgia's state House and Senate, either by heavily consolidating Black residents into a couple of districts or spreading them out over too many districts where they weren't really able to have much political power at the ballot box. Now, he ordered the legislature to create new maps by December 8 that create additional majority-Black districts in a couple of parts of Georgia, mainly Atlanta's western and southern suburbs, where there's been a huge demographic shift but not necessarily a political one as far as state and federal lawmakers go.

MCCAMMON: Yeah, I want to talk more about that. I mean, Georgia is a Republican-controlled state. The legislature's led by Republicans. The governor's a Republican. New majority-Black districts would typically elect Democrats, at least traditionally. What do we expect these new political boundaries to look like?

FOWLER: Well, it's complicated because you can't just tweak a couple of districts here and there and leave everything else the same. As you said, there should be more districts where Black voters can elect a candidate of their choice. But, Sarah, that doesn't mean more Democratic lawmakers overall. That's because Republicans could keep more of an advantage by targeting some of Georgia's Democratic-leaning districts that are majority-white, changing their composition and not violating the law because, reminder, it's legal to gerrymander for partisan purposes.

MCCAMMON: Speaking of partisan goals, I mean, flipping even one seat in a state like Georgia could change the balance of power in Washington, D.C., right?

FOWLER: Yes. Stop me if you've heard this before. Political decisions in Georgia might have national implications. I mean, if you just look at the congressional maps, Georgia is just one place where fights over the Voting Rights Act and Black representation are ongoing. Different rulings over gerrymandering by both parties could help decide which one of them controls the House next year. Plus, these legal challenges working through the courts could alter how the Voting Rights Act is or is not enforced for future mapmaking. Case in point here - Georgia officials are appealing this ruling even as they meet to change the maps in the meantime.

MCCAMMON: That's Georgia Public Broadcasting's Stephen Fowler. Stephen, thanks as always.

FOWLER: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF 5IVE STYLE'S "DEEP MARSH") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.
Stephen Fowler is the Producer/Back-Up Host for All Things Considered and a creative storyteller hailing from McDonough, Georgia. He graduated from Emory University with a degree in Interdisciplinary Studies. The program combined the best parts of journalism, marketing, digital media and music into a thesis on the rise of the internet rapper via the intersectionality of social media and hip-hop. He served as the first-ever Executive Digital Editor of The Emory Wheel, where he helped lead the paper into a modern digital era.

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