© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Voters line up early within the morning to forged their ballots within the U.S. Senate run-off election, at a polling station in Marietta, Georgia, January 5, 2021. REUTERS/Mike Segar
By Nathan Layne
(Reuters) -Republican state lawmakers in Georgia are pushing laws to redraw electoral maps in three counties in a transfer that may successfully override native officers who’ve historically wielded that energy in what has change into a battleground state.
Democrats and voting rights activists say the strikes are norm-busting energy grabs for county commissioner seats that might considerably influence governance in areas with giant minority populations. Republicans say they should shield their constituents amid a interval of intense demographic change.
The legislative maneuvers in Gwinnett, Athens-Clarke and Cobb counties all relate to the once-a-decade redistricting course of during which native officers sometimes redraw the maps for commissioners and the state legislature approves them in a rubber-stamp vote. Fee chairs are elected county-wide, whereas members, or commissioners, are elected by district.
“What we’re taking a look at is this concept that Republicans can use their energy on the state legislature to avoid native management,” mentioned Atlanta state Consultant Bee Nguyen, a Democrat who can also be a candidate for secretary of state. “It’s setting a brand new precedent that’s harmful in nature.”
The Republican lawmakers who’ve proposed their very own maps within the payments say the maps drawn up by native officers deny their voters a voice.
The payments are the middle of the most recent battle over voting rights in a state President Joe Biden gained narrowly in 2020, a victory that prompted Republicans to impose sweeping new poll restrictions and make a flurry of efforts to put county election boards in Republican fingers.
Redistricting has at all times been a partisan train. However for many years, lawmakers in Georgia have deferred to domestically elected officers who most mirror the need of their constituents – a norm that may be modified by the payments shifting their manner via the state’s Republican-controlled Home and Senate.
Gwinnett, Cobb and Athens-Clarke all have sizeable minority populations, prompting allegations that the maneuvers are aimed toward putting in whites or conservatives in county seats they in any other case couldn’t win.
In Gwinnett, the state’s second-most populous county, a Republican state lawmaker this week submitted a map to switch one authorised by its county commissioners and native legislative delegation, each of that are managed by Democrats.
The map proposed by Bonnie Wealthy, a strong Home Republican who represents a part of Gwinnett, would create a district that’s roughly half white in a county that has undergone huge inhabitants shifts and is now two-thirds Black, Hispanic and Asian.
Wealthy, who’s white, mentioned her map was “compact” and “pretty apportioned” and would hold communities in northern Gwinnett collectively. She criticized the county fee’s map, which made minimal adjustments to the one drawn by Republicans a decade in the past, earlier than Gwinnett flipped to Democratic management in 2016.
“They’ve ensured that my constituents won’t have a voice on the county stage,” Wealthy mentioned throughout a Home Governmental Affairs Committee assembly on Tuesday.
The Georgia Home handed Wealthy’s map on Thursday, largely alongside celebration strains. The brand new map would require Marlene Fosque, the primary Black individual elected to Gwinnett’s board of commissioners, to maneuver so as to run for re-election this yr.
The same course of is enjoying out in Cobb County, the place Republican legislators have filed their very own maps for the schooling and commissioner boards.
In Athens-Clarke, 4 Republicans are pushing forward with a map that renumbers districts in manner that may stop three Democratic commissioners from working for re-election, and which matches in opposition to a map authorised by the county fee.
Yurij Rudensky, a redistricting counsel within the Brennan Heart’s Democracy Program, mentioned the Georgia occasions signify “indicators of maximum redistricting abuses” and might be traced to the 2013 Supreme Court docket ruling gutting the Voting Rights Act’s provision requiring former Accomplice states to hunt federal approval earlier than re-drawing voting districts.