We are in a once a decade frenzy over how you will be represented at the federal and state levels when the General Assembly gathers in the fall to engage in reapportionment and redistricting. These two terms are used interchangeably, but they actually refer to two different processes.
Under Article 1 Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution, congressional representatives are apportioned to the states on the basis of population relative to other states, using population data collected every 10 years in the U.S. Census. Each state is entitled to 1 of the 435 congressional seats, with the other seats divided among the states by a method of “equal proportions” set out in the U.S. Code. In addition, the Census data is used by states to draw the geographic areas for legislative districts, a process known as redistricting. In a majority of states, both of these processes are done by the state legislative body.
Gerrymandering refers to drawing district lines in unfair ways, such as to create fully partisan districts where elections will not be competitive among parties.
An informative five minute state video explains the process in general and in Georgia: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RXbgkTxXOkQ
The Georgia Legislative and Congressional Reapportionment Office maintains files about reapportionment and redistricting. According to that office, the last reapportionment calculation from the 2010 census that gave us the current Congressional seats and districts and Georgia state districts was calculated this way:
Following the 2010 Census, the State of Georgia has 14 Congressional districts that elect members to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives. Each district was drawn to an ideal district size of 691,975 people and the districts are balanced to within a range of zero percent (0%) or two people. Representatives of these districts are elected every two years.
The State of Georgia has 180 State House districts, established in the Official Code of Georgia (O.C.G.A.) § 28-2-1. Using the most recent Census data from 2010, an ideal district size is 53,820 people. Georgia State Representatives serve for a term of two years.
The State of Georgia has 56 State Senate districts, established in the Official Code of Georgia (O.C.G.A.) § 28-2-2. Using the most recent Census data from 2010, an ideal district size is 172,994 people. Georgia State Senators serve for a term of two years.
We are waiting to receive the data from the 2020 U.S. Census on which to base redistricting and reapportionment, but by some estimates Georgia’s population has increased by over 1 million.
Due to COVID-19, the data is not expected until late August or early September. Then Governor Kemp will call for a Special Session of the General Assembly to look at and adopt new maps for election districts. This probably will take place in November this year.
But the Georgia House and Senate have a joint committee, controlled by the Republican majority, already working on this. The Joint Committee is offering open meetings around the state to take public comment. The first meeting for Atlanta occurred on June 15
These organizations have information and are lobbying for non-partisan fairness in apportionment and redistricting:
Fair Districts Georgia, which is partnering with the Princeton Gerrymandering Project to create modeling maps demonstrating multiple methods of drawing fair districts.
Fair Count, related to Stacey Abrams' Fair Fight.
Carson is an Atlanta native, a graduate of Paideia School in the Druid Hills neighborhood, and a rising junior at Emory University studying Political Science and Philosophy. We are lucky to have his time this summer. Carson reports on his work with us:
“This summer I am helping Representative Oliver put together a file on all matters related to the redistricting and reapportionment process that will occur later this year. So far, I have sat in on meetings with Fair Districts Georgia, an independent and non-partisan organization dedicated to preventing gerrymandering, as well as town halls with the Senate and House Redistricting Committee Chairs.
I attended the first in a series of many town halls on June 15th, where representatives from advocacy organizations and ordinary citizens came together to share their hopes for a transparent and fair redistricting process. Quite a few college and high school students took part in the meeting, too. Many commenters asked that the maps to be drawn up this fall preserve and promote the voting power of underrepresented communities in Georgia. Additionally, they asked for the chance to see the maps and get the opportunity to give their opinions on fairness and practicality before the legislature votes.
I am excited to hear more from people across Georgia throughout the summer and to see how the legislators will incorporate the opinions of their constituents.”
During the last Session, as you know, I filed House Bills 23, 24, and 66 in an effort to create conversation about the ways in which communities address annexation, including when the annexation involves bond validation review. While only HB 66 received a hearing and none of the bills made it to the House floor, the conversation got underway. With HR 222, the House established an Annexation Study Committee, on which I now serve.
The chair of the Committee, Rep. Victor Anderson (R), has called for us to begin meetings on August 17, continuing into the fall, and wrapping up during the anticipated Special Session for Reapportionment and Redistricting (possibly November). Our primary task will be to look at annexation dispute resolution laws, policies, and procedures with an eye to reform. I am particularly interested in bond validation hearings related to tax abatements, something that is in the news now involving the Fulton County Development Authority.
In related matters, the recent disputes between City Schools of Decatur and DeKalb County School District and between Atlanta Public Schools and DeKalb County School District provide examples of difficult issues but also show some creative resolutions regarding school district funds and annexation. Both local legislation SB 209 and SB 293 passed and were signed into law by Governor Kemp, setting out settlements of disputed issues following extensive negotiations.
While not in HD 82, the Buckhead City effort looms on the horizon for the next Session. Some of the same issues involved in annexation pop up with citihood. The AJC political columnist Patricia Murphy raises a good question about what will happen with public schools in a recent column.
I took at tour in May with MARTA General Manager and CEO Jeffrey Parker (below, left) and other transportation experts. We rode the train from the Avondale to Bankhead stations. I’m learning about MARTA’s extensive plans for development around and upgrades to stations.
A related issue I’m following is a conflict between MARTA and Atlanta Transit Link about who is in charge of allocating transportation funding under the Rescue Act. I am most concerned about transparency in this process and other questions that should be asked, similar to the ones I set out in my recent column in the AJC.
The Georgia Behavioral Health Reform and Innovation Commission submitted its report to Governor Kemp during the 2021 Session. Unfortunately, many of the recommendations did not see daylight, but a group led by former Representative and Commission Chair Kevin Tanner is working on legislation to file in the next Session.
This project continues to be of great interest to me because I continue to hear your stress and complaints about the Medicaid NOW waivers. In general, while Governor Kemp expects to launch his new plan in July, Georgia is still at a stalemate with the federal government over Medicaid expansion.
Many of you are following candidates emerging for races in the city of Atlanta (Election Day, November 2, 2021) and the state offices (Election Day, next November 8, 2022). Funding can be indicative of who has a strong chance of a win; at least, it shows who is backing a candidate.
Every campaign, including mine, must make financial disclosures by the deadline on June 30, 2021, and all of that information is available to you HERE.
Since Sine Die, I have been busy catching up on my Decatur law practice. But I have continued to work for you, meeting with you and with lobbyists and other legislators.
The House Democratic Caucus meets regularly. Most of our conversations right now are about reapportionment and voting rights.
On May 12, May 20, and June 10, I was a guest on Bill Nigut’s Political Rewind (on GPB 88.5 every weekday at 9 a.m. and 2 p.m.). Maybe you heard one of those appearances. Since we had to be on air from home rather than in the studio, Henry was heard expressing his opinion on a few of the programs!
My other activities in April, May, and June:
Now for the Great Story:
Years ago, I represented a client in a custody dispute for her daughter whose Ethiopian father had submitted their daughter to the practice of female genital mutilation (FGM). We won custody for the mother in that civil suit, and the father was subsequently tried and convicted under separate criminal charges. I believe that to this day my case is the sole civil suit of its kind in this country involving FGM.
A few months ago, the daughter, Amirah Adem, above, reached out to me because she is now a college student making a documentary about her experience. We connected for an on camera interview. This is a remarkable story and remarkable young woman. Here is more, in her words:
My name is Amirah Adem, I am currently 21 years old, and have South African and Ethiopian roots. I am originally from Stone Mountain, Georgia. During my senior year at Pomona College (California), I applied for the Strauss Foundation Award, a public service scholarship and received $15,000 to carry out a project to educate people about female genital mutilation.
Given the pandemic, my traveling options were limited. As part of the Strauss Award, I was connected with trustees from the organization who helped reframe my original project into one that could be carried out despite the pandemic constraints.
I created my documentary with the guidance of David Fanning, co-creator of Frontline, the long-running PBS series. It explores how I am investigating more information on my own case, relearning the details, and being able to formally have conversations with my family, and potentially I am looking to interview my father.
The main goal of the documentary is to spread awareness that FGM is happening not only in rural villages in Africa but also in America. I am hoping to provide a different lens on this issue and help towards eradicating FGM.