Cracked, stacked and packed.
Those are terms used to describe the redrawing of legislative districts to minimize minority voting power. And that’s what minority lawmakers in Georgia say has happened with recently drawn state Senate, state House and Congressional maps.
“That’s the ultimate power grab in the General Assembly,” said Sen. Emanuel Jones (D-10), chairman of the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus. “The Voting Rights Act is designed to prevent this from happening.”
Cracking is when a voter group is split between several districts to restrict it from having a majority vote in any one district. Packing refers to grouping like-minded voters in a district to limit their effect on multiple districts. In stacking, a large group of minorities is placed in a district with a larger majority group.
Districts are redrawn every 10 years based on population changes detailed by the U.S. Census. In August, the Republican-controlled General Assembly passed maps with redrawn districts that Democrats said were racially gerrymandered to reduce the minority vote.
Passed in 1965, the Voting Rights Act requires the U.S. Department of Justice to preapprove changes made to election procedures, including the altering of districts, in states with a history of racial discrimination. Georgia is one of nine states that are required to have preclearance.
Georgia Republicans sent the new maps to the Justice Department for preclearance while filing a lawsuit against the Justice Department asking the courts to approve the state’s maps on the grounds that they comply with the Voting Rights Act.
To counter the state’s legal action, the Black Caucus filed a motion to intervene in a lawsuit on behalf of minorities “to ensure that our voices are heard,” Jones said.
“That’s our duty,” Jones said. “That’s our responsibility. These are our constituents.”
Jones said the redrawn districts dilute minority votes “such that minorities can no longer elect candidates of their choice.”
“We’re not just talking about Blacks electing Blacks,” Jones said. “We’re talking about minorities electing candidates of their choice whoever they may be. That’s what America is all about.”
Sen. Fran Millar (R-40) said in redrawing the maps, which have fewer deviations than the current Justice Department maps, his fellow Republican lawmakers “adhered to every guideline put forth by the Justice Department—the Democratic Justice Department.”
“I expect these maps to be approved,” Millar said. “I would be very, very surprised if they are not.”
In DeKalb, the newly drawn District 81 would encompass parts of DeKalb County—including Chamblee, Doraville, and Mercer University—and a section of Gwinnett County surrounding Best Friends Park. The district would pit Rep. Scott Holcombe (D-82) against Rep. Elena Parent, who currently represents District 81.
Rep. Howard Mosby (D-90) would face Rep. Stephanie Stuckey Benfield (D-85) in a race to represent District 83, a slice of the county stretching from North Druid Hills to parts of South DeKalb. A large section of south DeKalb would be included in Senate District 44, which is currently based in Clayton County and represented by Sen. Gail Davenport, a Democrat.
“This is not a Democratic issue,” Jones said. “This is not a Republican issue. It’s a voting rights issue. It’s about protecting the voter rights and voting strengths of minorities.”
Georgia is not the only state with redistricting problems. The Justice Department is fighting Texas’s redistricting plan and the U.S. Supreme Court announced on Dec. 9 that it will hear oral arguments next month in the case.
Jones said he hopes the Justice Department, which has drawn Georgia’s maps for the past 40 years, will once again deny preclearance for the state’s maps.
In the event that the maps are approved, the Black Caucus plans to challenge the maps under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act which prohibits minority dilution.