Brian Kemp is a master architect of map rigging and voter suppression. He understands that low voter turnout is generally a good thing for the Republican Party in Georgia. But as a political strategy, low voter turnout is difficult to engineer and it can backfire. More ominously, Kemp understands that map rigging is the best political safeguard against demographic changes that increasingly tend to favor Democrats. He supported map rigging when he was in the State Senate in 2006 and he is currently defending the practice in a pending lawsuit involving the racially motivated redrawing of district lines in 2015 for House Districts 105 (Gwinnett County) and 111 (Henry County). If Kemp is elected governor and the Republicans continue to control the General Assembly, the next round of redistricting following the 2020 census will be a repeat of 2010 — or worse.
The Republicans will be positioned to draw Georgia’s electoral map for the next decade. If recent Republican behavior in other states such as North Carolina and Wisconsin provide a rough guide, the new maps will be drawn in secret without Democratic input and they will substantially favor Republicans in the General Assembly and in Georgia’s Congressional Delegation. The only political leverage against such an abuse of power is the election of Stacey Abrams as governor. The governor’s veto power is the only leverage Democrats realistically have to ward off Republican map rigging. Under fairly drawn electoral maps, Republicans would still retain a political majority in Georgia after 2020, but there should be fewer unopposed incumbents and more competitive races, all of which would mean higher voter turnout and perhaps less political polarization. Fairly drawn districts are good for democracy.
The concept of an independent redistricting commission would promote democracy through fair elections. But right now, such a commission faces an uphill struggle in Georgia. Proposals for the establishment of an independent redistricting commission remain bottled up in the reapportionment committees of the General Assembly. During the Democratic Primary last spring, 75 percent of the voters favored the concept. In contrast, the Republicans refused to put the advisory question on their primary ballot, despite a challenge to do so from DuBose Porter, Democratic Party Chairman. A favorable Republican Party primary vote on the issue would have created serious pressure on the General Assembly to allow the public to vote directly on the independent redistricting commission concept.
Politicians rarely miss a chance to extol the virtues of competition in the free market. Too bad they don’t embrace this ideology when it comes to elections. The explanation is dishearteningly simple. To political incumbents, self-preservation is the “Alpha and Omega” of politics. Competition is a real pain and few things suit incumbents more than running unopposed or against a predictably weak opponent. Georgia politics fits this pattern all too well. In the 2010 and 2014 governor’s races, Nathan Deal garnered 53 percent of the statewide vote. Yet, Republicans control 66 percent of the seats in the State Senate and 64 percent of the seats in the State House. In many races, Republicans run unopposed. It is time to run the foxes out of the hen house and end this power imbalance.
In one of the great ironies of the modern legal system, the Supreme Court’s redistricting decisions have spawned the greatest conflict of interest known to American law. Every decade, each state legislature must redraw its electoral maps in light of the census. All legislative and congressional districts must be virtually the same in population. Seems easy enough to accomplish. But it has become increasingly apparent in light of advances in computer technology that a party in power during redistricting can satisfy the one person/one vote principle and at the same time greatly diminish the political influence of the opposition. This can be done, it is crucial to understand, without resorting to the bizarre or misshaped districts which so many people today associate with map rigging. In short, partisan redistricting has become the perfect political crime. Litigation is unlikely to offer a solution given the Supreme Court’s current configuration.
Thus, the only way this dire situation can be changed in Georgia is through the establishment of an independent redistricting commission as a growing number of states have done. The only way this question can be placed on a statewide ballot is through a vote of both the State Senate and the State House. If the question does not get on the ballot for the 2020 election cycle, Brian Kemp and his buddies will be able to reward themselves with another decade of unearned political domination. The only person who would be motivated to pressure the General Assembly to let the voters decide whether to reject partisan map rigging is Stacey Abrams.