Late on Friday, Georgia Republicans rushed a bill through the state House that would redraw nine state legislative districts. Of course, the last decade has seen a systemic, nationally-driven effort by the GOP to gerrymander state and congressional districts in its favor (and Democrats haven’t been totally innocent on the gerrymandering front, either). Still, what happened on Friday is especially breathtaking, for a couple of reasons.
Redistricting is supposed to take place at the start of each decade, based on the results of the once-a-decade census. So a mid-decade redistricting is unusual, though certainly not unprecedented. In fact, Georgia Republicans did it last decade too, in 2004. They redistricted again in 2011, along with the rest of the country. That time, they gerrymandered so effectively that 2012 election results for both congressional and state Senate races skewed to the GOP more heavily than in any state in the country, one study found. That gerrymander was still working pretty well for the GOP last year, when they won nearly two-thirds of all seats in the state House even though Donald Trump won just 50 percent of the vote in Georgia. In other words, the map was already rigged about as effectively as it could be.
But to Georgia Republicans, it wasn’t enough. The state’s demographics are changing faster than almost anywhere in the country, and several of the districts in the Atlanta suburbs that Republicans are looking to mess with yet again are becoming increasingly non-white. And these districts’ white population is largely made up of the kind of well-educated voters who are becoming alienated from the Republican Party under Trump. The new map passed by the House Friday would shore up several of the Republican incumbents most threatened by these shifts. One close observer has called the move “a naked attempt to prevent voters from ousting their representative.”
Of course, Georgia also has been a leader in making voting, and voter registration, more difficult lately. (In 2014, one Republican state lawmaker even complained that an early voting site had been put in a location “dominated by African-American shoppers.” Amid an outcry, he said he wasn’t racist, he simply “would prefer more educated voters.”) It’s a reminder that so much of the effort to undermine democracy has always been driven by fear of demographic change and the political impact it’s likely to have.