Last night, the Georgia Redistricting Alliance, in honor of Redistricting Week, held a Community Event which featured clips from Gerrymandering: The Movie, and a panel discussion. Panelists included our own Board member Prof. Kerwin Swint, Tracey-Ann Nelson of the League of Women Voters, and a representative from the Voting Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union. Also joining us was Chairman of the House Legislative and Congressional Reapportionment Committee, Rep. Roger Lane, as well as Sen. Josh McKoon, and counsel for the legislative redistricting office, Mr. Frank Strickland and Ms. Ann Lewis.
Many concerned Georgians voiced their concerns, and inquired into the past and future of redistricting. The last redistricting cycle, which started with the 2000 census, and occurred under Gov. Roy Barnes, opened many feelings of bitterness and fear of partisanship gaming. That cycle produced maps which wound up in federal court, where they got modified by court order, and were then again modified by the legislature in the middle of the decade. It was clear that such redistricting in the middle of the decade caused instability, and one attendee expressed her frustration and challenges with being redistricted three times over those five years.
Rep. Lane also thoroughly addressed attendees’ questions about the process and the role of party. When many expressed concern that the role of the Carl Vinson Institute, which many have seen as a nonpartisan buffer to the redistricting process, had been eliminated, Rep. Lane gave a frank answer. He stated that the role of the Carl Vinson Institute never had a role designing maps, that their role was ministerial, as they manipulated maps according to the instructions of lawmakers. Rep. Lane said a similar function will be performed by the new legislative redistricting office. So, any partisanship is the result of lawmakers, not consultants.
When queried about using the law firm of Strickland, Brockington, and Lewis as counsel for the redistricting office- the firm also counsels the Republican party- Rep. Lane stated their role was also not to make maps, but to give advice on the legal compliance of the maps. Rep. Lane and others recognized the historical experience the law firm had with redistricting issues.
Representatives from the ACLU discussed, in detail, the factors the U.S. Department of Justice considers when it looks at maps. Under the Voting Rights Act, any maps Georgia produces must be cleared by either the Dept. of Justice, or a D.C. District Court, in order to be valid. Clearance requires that new districts do not discriminate against, nor dilute, the vote of minority populations. Factors like the density of minority populations and voting patterns by minority populations would be considered.
The movie showed examples of redistricting nightmares, like where a specific challenger to an incumbent was purposely redistricted out of the incumbent’s district in Brooklyn. Or where a prison population counted for 95% of the district’s population, and since the prisoners couldn’t vote, it was “representation without population.” And of course, there were pictures of districts shaped like telephones, earmuffs, and somehow, a duck snuck in there.