By President Pro Tempore Tommie Williams
July 20, 2011
Every ten years since the foundation of America, a national census is conducted to count the total population. Steeped in tradition and codified in our Constitution, the first national census was conducted under the supervision of the nation’s first Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson. Under Article 1, Section 2 of the United States Constitution, the federal government is mandated to conduct a count of the total population of the United States every 10 years. The results are used to determine the number of each state’s congressional delegation and electoral votes. As a result of the decennial United States census, the Governor will call a special session this August to focus on redistricting and reapportionment. In this process, the General Assembly redraws state and congressional district lines to account for population growth and migration. As one part of the nation grows at a faster rate than the rest of the country, it gains additional congressional seats at the expense of slower-growing regions.
The root of the redistribution is to ensure that citizens have equal representation in the Congress. The U.S. House has 435 Congressmen along with six non-voting members representing the District of Columbia and the U.S. territories. Like most states in the union, Georgia maintains a fixed number of legislators in the state General Assembly. The Georgia General Assembly currently has 180 Representatives and 56 Senators.
As a testament to Georgia’s reputation as the economic heart and engine of the Southeast, the 2010 Census showed that Georgia grew by 18.3 percent over the past decade to a total population of 9,687,653. The growth earned us an additional congressional seat, increasing Georgia’s congressional delegation from 13 to 14 seats. This additional seat also means that our state will have 14 votes in the Electoral College, which is used during our presidential elections. Much of the rapid growth is centered in the northern suburbs around metro Atlanta. In general, while South Georgia enjoyed some growth, metro Atlanta area and North Georgia grew much more substantially.
While there have been redistricting and reapportionment special sessions in the past, this session is historic. For the first time since Reconstruction, Republicans have an active role in the process. That role comes with great responsibilities. Both U.S. Congressional Districts and state legislative districts must be drawn so that their residents have a fair and equal share in the way they are governed. The term “one person, one vote” has been used by the courts in redistricting cases that are designed to keep each district as close as possible in terms of population size. A decade ago, the General Assembly, under Democratic control, drew the legislative maps with the sole aim of preserving Democratic control over this state. However, the district maps were so gerrymandered that the maps were found in violation of the U.S. Constitution. The federal court redrew the State Senate and House maps to their current design. In contrast to the manner in which Democrats dealt with redistricting, current Republican leadership has sought input from the Democratic members of the General Assembly as well as the public. We are working closely with both Legislative Counsel and the Joint Reapportionment Office to draw the future maps in a transparent and constitutional manner.
Like any legislation, redistricting bills must pass the scrutiny of both the upper and lower chambers of the General Assembly after advancing through the committee process. The final bill must be signed by the Governor. To comply with the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the final map must then be sent to Washington, D.C. to be “pre-cleared” by either the U.S. Justice Department or the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Currently, only nine southern states (and portions of seven others) are still required to have their maps pre-cleared.
There are many ways citizens can participate in the redistricting process. Please visit Georgia General Assembly Legislative and Congressional Reapportionment website at “legis.ga.gov/legis/2011_12/house/Committees/reapportionment/gahlcr.htm” to sign-up for email notification of committee meetings or provide public input directly to the committee chairmen, Senator Mitch Seabaugh and Representative Roger Lane. Finally, citizens may contact their legislators to give input, and when the special session starts in August, the Redistricting Committee meetings are open to the public to attend and give testimony. Any maps that are drawn will be available before passage, and the public may submit maps of their own to their legislators.