‘We want transparency:’ State redistricting committee visits Macon

A+large+group+of+citizens+voiced+their+opinions+before+the+Joint+Reapportionment+and+Redistricting+Committee+in+Thursday%27s+public+meeting.

Micah Johnston

A large group of citizens voiced their opinions before the Joint Reapportionment and Redistricting Committee in Thursday’s public meeting.

Middle Georgians and citizens from across the state called for more transparency in the redistricting process and criticized past trends of gerrymandering in a meeting Thursday night. The Georgia Joint Reapportionment and Redistricting Committee held a meeting for public input in Macon at the Mercer Medical School Auditorium where many people voiced their opinions.

“We want a transparent process, everyone has spoken about that,” Bibb County resident Mary Lou Ezell said to the committee. “And that does mean looking at the maps after they have been formed and before you vote on them, because they may need to be changed again.”

“Transparency” was a major theme of the meeting, as almost all citizens in attendance called for a more public process. In the past, the committee has not made the redrawn maps available prior to voting.

The joint committee is made up of State House representatives and senators from across Georgia and is chaired by Macon native Sen. John F. Kennedy and Gwinnett County’s Rep. Bonnie Rich. The group meets every ten years to redraw district lines using U.S census data, but has been delayed because of the 2020 pandemic’s effects on the census.

Both Kennedy and Rich moderated the meeting and heard comments from citizens about the timing of the process related to the census data delay, which has set back the committee by multiple months.

“Now I get that things are rushed, but as the leaders of this state, we can’t afford to rush this process because you’ll leave so many people behind,” said Danny Glover, a Macon resident. 

The committee may not receive all necessary census data until as late as Sep. 30, according to Rep. Rich. This has resulted in speculation that the process will be “rushed,” as Glover said.

Another topic was Georgia’s history of gerrymandering, as many speakers brought up the state’s failure to outlaw the practice. Gerrymandering consists of manipulating the boundaries of a district to benefit a particular group or political party. In this case, it typically pertains to Republican or Democratic interests and different interests based on class.

Tift County resident Mark Hall spoke on certain Bibb County districts’ “notches” that, in his opinion, enable politicians to win certain elections.

“In our eighth congressional district, we can see a notch in Bibb County to help Austin Scott retain his office year after year,” Hall said to the committee. “We can see another notch in the same district all the way down in Valdosta to help Austin Scott, year after year. As Ronald Reagan said, ‘gerrymandering has become a national scandal,’ and the voters agree in 2018 and 2020.”

Tift County resident Mark Hall voiced concerns with the committee’s history of gerrymandering during the meeting, getting applause from others in attendance. (Micah Johnston)

Hall continued to criticize the committee for gerrymandering, stating specifically that the Republican Party was ”clustering the Democrats” and requested that the group enlist a non-partisan committee to draw the district lines.

“That would go a long way towards showing the tendency that you can think beyond your own selfish partisan interests and shore up your support now when you need it the most,” Hall said to the committee. “Or you can do what we all expect, draw the new districts to spread your own voter spin.”

Hall walked away from the podium to a standing ovation from multiple people attending the meeting, and more citizens would go on to give their own examples of districting problems. 

A North Macon resident noted that her district, House Representative District 143, was lumped in with residents of rural Monroe County and should be included in an urban Macon district. Glover spoke on the potential separation of the East Macon and South Macon communities. Yet another resident asked the committee to avoid separating Toombs County and Montgomery County with district lines, as the two regions are “basically family.”

The meeting provided a mix of personal and broad requests. Other topics included prisoners voting in the district of their prison instead of where they live, southern farming districts being sized appropriately and Bibb County consisting of two districts instead of five.

The committee said they will take all the information discussed at the meeting into account when redrawing the districts. The official date of the redraw and subsequent vote is unknown.