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Georgia Republicans target Democrat’s district in new state congressional map

<span>Photograph: Jason Getz/AP</span>
Photograph: Jason Getz/AP

Last month, US district judge Steve Jones ordered Georgia to redraw its legislative maps in a 516-page order – requiring the Republican-controlled state senate to create a new Black-majority district.

The senate responded Friday afternoon with a redrawn congressional map that added hundreds of thousands of Black voting-age residents to Georgia’s sixth district, currently held by Republican Rich McCormick.

Related: Louisiana must draw new congressional map by mid-January for 2024 elections

But it does so by blowing up Georgia’s seventh district, held by gun control advocate and potential Democratic gubernatorial candidate Lucy McBath. Georgia’s current seventh district is centered in Gwinnett county, a well-developed suburb north-east of Atlanta. This is the second time Republicans have tried to cut McBath’s district out from under her, a reflection of her role as foremost among the state’s Democrats in targeting the suburban swing voters and rising wave of non-white residents that are changing Georgia’s political trajectory.

“Georgia Republicans have yet again attempted to subvert voters by changing the rules,” McBath said in a statement. “We will look to the ruling from Judge Jones in the coming weeks before announcing further plans. Regardless, Congresswoman McBath refuses to let an extremist few in the state legislature determine when her time serving Georgians in Congress is done.”

Even though politics is a biennial war in Georgia, with electoral margins that famously can be measured in fractions of a percent, it is currently represented by nine Republicans and five Democrats in Congress. The proposed map likely preserves that imbalance: none of the proposed districts present an especially competitive partisan challenge.

It is unclear if the Georgia senate’s map will ultimately be adopted. Georgia’s state senate tends to be more partisan than its house. Republican house committee chairs took pains during hearings to say that, while they’re appealing the ruling, they were not interested in a protracted legal fight over redistricting.

“I don’t look good in horizontal stripes,” said representative Bob Leverett, chairman of the House Committee on reapportionment and redistricting. “We’re going to beat Alabama this weekend,” he said after a hearing Thursday, referring to the heated SEC title game between the University of Georgia and Alabama.

“And I hope to beat them in the way we handle redistricting. We plan to comply. We are appealing, but we’re going to comply.”

The question before Georgia’s Republican-led legislature is whether an opportunity to harm Lucy McBath’s political fortunes is worth risking judicial blowback.

McBath rose to prominence after she won the sixth District race in 2018. She defeated the incumbent, representative Karen Handel, a former Georgia secretary of state who narrowly beat Jon Ossoff in a bruising, narrow, legendarily-expensive nationalized congressional special election the year before.

Handel had been a consistent force in Georgia politics for more than a decade, and had strong legislative support. The sixth district had been centered in Cobb county, long a Republican stronghold and Newt Gingrich’s former seat. But increasing numbers of Black and Asian voters made Cobb county less friendly to Republicans.

So, legislators redrew the district in 2020, increasing its Republican voter registration by more than 10%. Forced out, McBath primaried representative Carolyn Bordeaux, a Democratic in neighboring Gwinnett, defeated her and took over the seventh district this year.

If Georgia is the US’s political battleground, then Gwinnett county is its front line.

The seventh district has the smallest voting age population of Georgia’s 14 congressional seats, because families with school-aged children flock to its excellent schools. Until 2016, Gwinnett had long been a Republican bulwark, but the county’s partisan lean began to shift rapidly as the county became more racially diverse. None of its five county commissioners today are Republicans, and a supermajority of its elected officials are Democrats

The seveth district’s voting-age population is 33% white, 27% Black, 21% Hispanic and 15% Asian, according to figures from Georgia’s legislative and congressional reapportionment office. The northern quarter of Gwinnett county voters today – the whiter and more conservative area remaining in Gwinnett – are in Andrew Clyde’s ninth district.

The Georgia senate proposal cracks Gwinnett’s voters into four districts. Hank Johnson’s fourth district would lose exurban voters in fast-growing Rockdale and Henry county south of Atlanta for an immigrant corridor along Buford highway in Gwinnett, trading white voters for Asian and Hispanic voters. Mike Collins would pick up a piece. David Scott, a Black Democrat who has long represented Atlanta’s south and western suburbs would lose most of his western district to the new sixth, while absorbing the southern half of Gwinnett.

And the seventh district would be reconstituted as conservative territory stretching from the affluent northern Atlanta suburbs of Alpharetta and Johns Creek into the Appalachian foothills, none of which is in Gwinnett county.

Jones’ judicial order in Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity v Brad Raffensberger notes that 47% of the increase in Georgia’s population over the last 10 years has been of Black voters, without a concomitant change in political outcomes. His order requires the state to alter its maps both for the state legislature and for congress. The order requires the state to redraw maps in metro Atlanta so that an additional congressional seat has enough Black voters to be able to elect the candidate of its choice.

Republicans in Alabama, Louisiana, North Carolina and elsewhere have been ordered to redraw congressional maps after judges found violations of the Voting Rights Act. They’re in varying states of resistance. Alabama sent the court a congressional map that was found out of compliance, leading to the court redrawing the map itself.

The federal court also ordered Georgia to create five additional Black-influenced state house districts and two more Black-influenced state senate districts. Legislative maps approved on Friday do so, but largely by reducing the number of white and Asian Democratic incumbents who likely to win office. Those pairings are primarily in Atlanta’s northern and eastern suburbs, particularly Gwinnett county.

“It’s going to be up to the courts to decide,” said state senator Kim Jackson, a Democrat from DeKalb county on Atlanta’s east side. “But that map, in my opinion, doesn’t meet the judge’s order.”