DeKalb Democrats in the state legislature are upset with redistricting plans that passed the Republican-controlled Georgia Assembly on Aug. 18.
“It’s not good,” said Rep. Scott Holcombe (D-82). “It basically destroys the communities of interest that are represented in the county.”
Holcombe said the “snake-like” districts are not compact or contiguous.
“The communities that they cover aren’t even communities,” Holcombe said. “What we have now are these crazy-looking districts.”
Holcombe said the districts have been gerrymandered to “silence the voices of Georgia voters.”
“What has me upset is that the maps don’t make sense and they don’t have the best interests of the people they represent.”
The newly drawn District 81 is an amoeba-looking area encompassing parts of Dresden Road, DeKalb-Peachtree Airport, Chamblee, Doraville, Mercer University, Henderson Road, and a chunk of Gwinnett County surrounding Best Friends Park.
The district would pit Holcomb against Democrat Rep. Elena Parent, who currently represents District 81.
The districts are “really problematic” and are “clearly intended to target White Democrats,” Parent said. “In Fulton and DeKalb they are racially gerrymandered.”
Parent said she would be surprised if the maps pass a review by the courts. The new districts are engineered to get render ineffective White Democrats by making it more likely that a district would vote in a White Republican, she said.
“I hope these are not the maps we’ll be running under in 2012,” said Stephanie Stuckey Benfield (D-85). “If precedence is any indicator, this will be not the map.”
For DeKalb County the new districts will mean less representation and a “reduction of influence,” said Rep Howard Mosby (D-90).
Under the plan, Mosby would face Benfield in a race to represent District 83, a sliver of the county stretching from North Druid Hills to parts of South DeKalb.
“That is unfortunate—pitting two long-term incumbents against each other,” Mosby said. “The county loses.”
“Republicans have overreached and tried to use the Voting Rights Act as a weapon—a rationale for why they believe they could draw a constitutional majority of Republican seats,” Mosby said.
Passed in 1965, the act requires the Justice Department to preapprove changes made to election procedures, including the altering of districts, in states with a history of racial discrimination. Georgia is one of nine states that are required to have preclearance.
The biggest change in DeKalb’s senate districts is in the 44th district, now represented by Sen. Gail Davenport, a Democrat. That district, currently based in Clayton County, will now encompass a large section of south DeKalb.
“Because DeKalb tends to vote Democratic, its voice continues to be degraded,” said Sen. Jason Carter (D-42).
Republicans “will be able to pass constitutional amendments solely with Republican votes,” Carter said. That is the “ultimate political authority” because the votes cannot be challenged in courts.
The Republican Party “designed this map to be challenged in court,” Carter said. “They chose to push the Voting Rights Act as far as they could. Now it has to be ruled on by the court.”
Sen. Fran Millar (R-40) said he feels “very comfortable that it will be upheld by the courts.” He also said he is sorry that some incumbents are paired against each other in the new districts, but, “That’s life.”
The shapes of the districts were necessary to comply with the Voting Rights Act, Millar said.
To follow the act, legislators had to start by creating majority-minority districts.
“I personally don’t think that’s right, but it doesn’t matter what I think because it’s the law,” said Millar, adding that he does not like the Voting Rights Act. “I don’t like to see anything done on the basis of race. This isn’t 1960 or even 1980.”
According to the 2010 Census, DeKalb County’s population increased by 3.9 percent, less than any other county in metropolitan Atlanta.
“DeKalb lost three districts because we didn’t grow,” Millar said. “You’re not going to have these perfect districts that are squares. You’ve got to go find the people.”