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The United States of America promises its people free and fair elections; however, this very right is continuously challenged by gerrymandering. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCE has been studying US elections since 2002. Their most recent report based on the 2018 midterms is a clear call to action as the OSCE explained “The right to vote is subject to many limitations, with minorities disproportionately impacted” (Elections, OSCE). The state of Georgia is a clear example of partisan gerrymandering. This report will address the issue of partisan gerrymandering in Georgia and propose an impartial and independent citizen redistricting commission to promote fair redistricting reform.
Districts are ideally supposed to be drawn to ensure that the growing, diverse population is represented fairly in each state. Yet, Georgia is an ideal example of partisan and incumbent protection gerrymandering. According to the state constitution, the state legislature is tasked with drawing the lines for the state’s districts. Georgia has fourteen congressional districts, onehundred- eighty districts for the House of Representatives, and fifty-six senate districts. At the time of redistricting, both chambers of the state legislature were controlled by republicans.
Therefore, republicans drew districts that favored their party. Republicans used the technique known as cracking to spread democratic voters out in new districts and minimize their potential voting power. As a result of partisan gerrymandering, the people of Georgia encountered a new problem, the new republican favoring lines eliminated political competition and paved the way for incumbent protection gerrymandering. This gave voters few options on the ballot and ensured re-elections for incumbents. Examples of this during the November 2018 midterm elections include: five of Georgia’s congressional incumbents running unopposed, 81% of Georgia’s state legislature had only one major party candidate on the ballot, and 56% of state legislature campaigns were over before the primary because only one person for each party filed to run.
The first step that I propose towards eliminating gerrymandering would be to introduce a citizen-based independent commission with the sole responsibility of drawing the new district lines following the 2020 census. This resolution would require an amendment to the Georgia constitution forcing legislative and congressional reapportionment to be done by an independent, bipartisan citizen commission. The commission should consist of 14 members with no prerogative to run for any government position, five of which should be democrats, five republicans, and four not affiliated with any party. After the district lines are drawn, the commission should be dissolved and a new commission formed with different members every time redistricting is required.
In order for this resolution to pass, it would need two-thirds in both legislative chambers. According to Atlanta News Now, many if not all democrats are projected to support independent commission redistricting. They also predict that moderate republicans will support independent redistricting commissions as some republicans fear the growing blue wave and loss of the republican control over Georgia. After the 2018 elections which introduced the blue wave, many seats turned blue in Georgia which gave democrats a chance of taking the majority of the House of Representatives. The house is currently 105 republicans and 75 democrats, which means democrats only have to flip 15 seats to gain majority. This makes the resolution likely to pass in the House of Representatives.
In addition to the House of Representatives, we would need two-thirds of the Georgia State Senate to pass the resolution. The senate is currently composed of 21 democrats and 35 republicans. This means we would need 17 republicans to agree to the resolution as of now. However, as I explained earlier, this number is likely to go down in 2020 due to the blue wave, which in turn makes passing the resolution more feasible. According to several polls, the most prominent critical republican targets crucial to passing this resolution would also be incumbents with elections coming up in the next five years. These key targets would most likely be interested in self- preservation in light of the growing support for fair nonpartisan election reform following gubernatorial nominee, Stacey Abrams. Due to their interest in self- preservation, it is projected they will support this resolution (Wheatley, Thomas). Some of these key political actors include Brandon Beach, Jesse Stone, Mike Dugan, and Jeff Mullis, among many others. This redistricting resolution is essential to returning the integrity of state government and fair elections to Georgia. In the past twenty years, this resolution would not have been feasible in Georgia. However, due to the upcoming elections (both presidential, and non-presidential) and the pressure on the democratic party to maximize the number of seats in the state legislature, Georgia is on the path to redistricting reform. Both the political and partisan climate in the past year has shed light on how divided and misrepresented Georgia is. As noted earlier, Stacey Abrams’ claims of “rigged elections in Georgia” have inspired a movement towards statewide public support for redistricting reform. The traction leading up to this movement and the presidential election has paved a path towards redistricting reform in Georgia as well as produced many competitive candidates for the next elections.
Various states have passed redistricting reforms similar to the resolution proposed in this report with great success. The most notable being California’s Citizen Redistricting Reform. In similar fashion states such as Arizona, Ohio, and Montana have also passed redistricting reforms. There is plenty of studies and evidence suggesting that independent citizen redistricting commissions have driven up the competitiveness in local elections. According to the New York Times, an instance where this occurred is in California where the percent of districts considered competitive went from five percent to nineteen percent, a vast improvement (Soffen, Kim). In conclusion, the integrity of Georgia’s elections is being threatened, and we must act now by passing redistricting reforms to begin reparations of this flawed democracy. We need to fight for fair representation that puts our communities first, not our politicians. The resolution I have proposed in this report is the beginning of a new era of transparency. It is imperative we recognize this is a viable solution in Georgia, and encourage our legislators to vote in favor of this resolution.
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