Addressing Objections to the GA House Redistricting Plan: Q & A with Rep. Edward Lindsey

Rep. Edward Lindsey, an attorney, is regarded as one of the smartest guys in the House. He’s released an e-Newsletter this weekend covering the legal talking points on the House redistricting map that passed this week.  I don’t normally copy/paste things to PeachPundit, but this is essential reading for those who want more than a 30,000-foot aerial view of redistricting.

By Representative Edward Lindsey, Georgia House Majority Whip:

1.     Does the Redistricting Plan for the Georgia House of Representatives (HB 1EX) violate the Federal Voting Rights Act (VRA)? No

“The redistricting plan passed by the Georgia House on August 18, 2011, was created in accordance with guidelines issued by President Obama’s Justice Department and creates 49 African American “majority-minority” districts, which are the same number that exist at the present time. This will keep us in full compliance with the VRA. In addition, we will have for the first time a Hispanic Majority Minority district.

By contrast, the alternative proposal presented to the House Reapportionment Committee by the Democratic Party through its caucus leadership on August 16, 2011 only maintained 43 African American “majority-minority” districts according to the testimony of the House Minority Leader.  If true, their plan is likely retrogressive and in violation of Section 5 of the VRA. Furthermore, the alternative plan created by the Democratic Party has four districts with African American populations that are 80+%. This would also likely be considered unlawful packing under the VRA.

What legal rationale has the Democratic Party tried to use to justify its proposal and attack the plan passed by the Georgia House? It argues that the state of Georgia should move away from protecting “majority minority” districts and instead create more “cross-over districts” in order to comply with the VRA.

A “cross-over district” is a somewhat nebulous term defined as a district in which minority voters make up less than a majority of the voting-age population, but the minority population is potentially large enough to elect the candidate of its choice with help from majority voters who cross over to support the minority’s preferred candidate. How you prove this has occurred, however, is not clear and that is why such districts have been rejected as a legitimate barometer under the VRA both statutorily and in court decisions.

In the U.S. Supreme Court decision Ashcroft v. Georgia (2003), Justice O’Connor allowed using such districts in analyzing compliance under section 5 of the VRA, but did not mandate their consideration in drawing new districts. However, in the 2006 reauthorization of the VRA, the U.S. Congress amended Section 5 in order to legislatively overrule Ashcroft in regards to permitting consideration of cross-over districts. The legislative history contains the following statement from the House Judiciary Committee: “the committee makes clear that Congress explicitly rejects all that logically follows from Justice O’Connor’s statement; [that “cross-over districts” can be utilized in determining compliance under Section 5 of the VRA].

The Supreme Court returned to the issue of “cross-over districts” in the case of Bartlett v. Strickland (2009). This time the court looked at whether it could consider such districts when considering possible violations under Section 2 of the VRA. Justice Kennedy in Bartlett decided against expanding consideration under the act to include such districts. He reasoned that to do so “would require courts to make complex political predictions and tie them to race-based assumptions.”

Given the clear law to the contrary, why would the Democratic Party nevertheless argue for use of “cross –over districts” under the VRA? Simply put, it is desperate to cling to any rationale in order to protect the seats of its incumbents in areas that have lost population in the past ten years.

Of the 20 smallest districts in Georgia, measured by population, 19 of them are presently held by members of the Democratic Party.

By contrast, of the 10 largest districts in Georgia, measured by population, all of them are held by members of the Republican Party. This will naturally lead to a migration of districts to the areas of growth in Georgia –which is away from the Democratic Party’s historical geographic strongholds.

2. Does the redistricting plan passed by the Georgia House  (HB 1EX) unduly pair existing Democratic House Representatives? No

All total, 10 Democratic Representatives inside the perimeter (I-285) of metro Atlanta and two in rural east Georgia have been paired and will have to run against each other in Democratic primaries next summer. The reason is simple. According to the census numbers gathered in 2010, 8 of the 10 smallest State House districts by population were Democratic seats inside the I-285 perimeter in Metro Atlanta. Many more Democratic seats in this urban area were also in the bottom twenty five in population. In addition, Democratic districts in east Georgia also lost significant numbers of residents.

Under the guiding principle of one person, one vote, if an area loses population it loses seats. This is not partisan. This is not personal. This is simple math. In fact, the same thing is happening under the passed redistricting plan in rural South Georgia where 8 Republican legislators are being paired because of a loss of population in their area.

In contrast to the redistricting plan passed by the House, it is interesting to look at the alternative redistricting proposal submitted by the Democratic Party at the House Reapportionment Committee on August 16, 2011. By gerrymandering and slicing up suburban Republican areas, it found a way to protect its members and instead pair 16 Republicans and only one Democrat. The Republicans paired were Chairman Joe Wilkinson, Chairman Sharon Cooper, Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones, Chairman Mark Hamilton, Chairman Mike Jacobs, Chairman Ben Harbin, Rep. Barbara Sims, Rep. Jason Shaw, Governor’s Floor Leader Rep. Amy Carter, Chairman Penny Houston, Rep. Darlene Taylor, Chairman Jay Powell, Rep. Delvis Dutton, Chairman Greg Morris, Rep. Bob Hanner, and Rep. Mike Cheokes. Only Democrat Elena Parent faced a pairing.

It should be of little surprise that the Democratic Party took this path in 2011. It similarly paired 37 Republicans and only 9 Democrats in its redistricting plan in 2001.

3. Does the redistricting  plan passed by the Georgia House (HB 1EX) have unduly odd shapes and destroy communities of interest? No

Because of the constitutional requirements of one person one vote and the legal requirements under the VRA, urban districts will often appear long and narrow in comparison to more suburban and rural areas. This was true in the Federal Court drawn districts in 2004. This is also true in both the redistricting plan passed by the Georgia House and the Democratic Party’s alternative proposal this year.

Nevertheless, a mathematical analysis of the passed plan and Democratic alternative proposal was done using a well established formula called the “Polsby-Popper Test” The analysis is intended to determine the overall compactness of all drawn districts in a state’s redistricting map. The resulting measurements were virtually identical for each map, with the district map passed by the Georgia House being slightly better but only by a .001 margin.

Furthermore, with regards to splitting counties, the passed redistricting plan splits fifteen fewer counties than the Democratic Party’s alternative proposal and five fewer than the map drawn by the Federal Court for Georgia in 2004.

10 comments

  1. rense says:

    I wish the GOP would stop talking about the Voting Rights Act with respect to redistricting.

    0. It reminds everyone that the GOP – or at least the modern conservative dominated GOP – have never supported the Voting Rights Act and have had chilly emotions towards civil rights laws in general.

    1. It lets everyone know that despite their chilly attitude towards the Voting Rights Act and other civil rights measures, conservatives are not above cynically exploiting them to advance their own purposes.

    2. It seems to be trying to shift the subject from partisan redistricting to the Voting Rights Act, sort of a “see all the damage and division these liberal civil rights laws imposed on us by outside agitators cause!”

    3. It turns what should be a partisan issue into a racial one.

    Add it all up and it smacks of computer-aided southern strategy politics. Look, everyone knows that even if the Voting Rights Act weren’t a factor, the GOP would have still tried to knock off as many Democratic incumbents as possible. We know this because GOP legislatures are trying to do this all over the country in states not affected by the Voting Rights Act. So the only reason to even mention the VRA is to provide cover, and to get people angry at the fact that it is still in existence. Also, the state GOP can’t exactly pretend to be “shocked, SHOCKED” at accusations that they are trying to knock off every white Democrat they can when all you have to do is do a search of practically any Georgia conservative/GOP haunt (including, er, Peach Pundit) and see all the gleeful chortling over the Democratic Party’s declining fortunes among white voters. During the party switching frenzy just a few months ago, instead of being at least circumspect over absorbing all those RINOs (who will take critical committee memberships, block conservative legislation, and oh yeah have to be protected during redistricting) instead there was nothing but glee over “there goes all the white Democrats outside of metro Atlanta!”

    Keep this up, and all the voters will hear is that A. conservatives still resent civil rights laws (and credibly saying “they have outlived their usefulness” is difficult if you opposed them initially), B. conservatives have no real problem with racially polarized voting and C. conservatives are perfectly willing to exploit A. and B. to their advantage. Look, even if those things are true, try not to be so brazen about it. Just admit “We are drawing maps to maximize our advantage” instead of saying “The devil – excuse me, civil rights laws – made me do it.”

    • macho says:

      “I wish the GOP would stop talking about the Voting Rights Act with respect to redistricting.”

      I’m sorry, I don’t like to get overly personal, but this has to be one of the most ridiculous comments I’ve ever read. How do you not do redistricting without acknowledging Sec. 5 of the Voting Rights Act – it’s a Federal requirement. It’s hard for me to grasp the perversion of your response. I think you are trying to say is that by the GOP acknowledging the Federal requirement of Sec. 5, “it reminds everyone that the GOP…has never supported the VRA.” Is that a Catch 22?

      Did you read the post? More importantly, have you read the VRA?

      It seems as if it’s the State Democratic Party, and its maps, that was all too willing to trample over the VRA, specifically Section 5, in the name of keeping white Democrats.

    • Duke says:

      Rense, You are a back-bencher, wanna-be that pretends to understand the redistricting process. Try this on for size…before the legislature could do anything, they had to conform to the VRA. That means that race was forced upon the process by the Feds. That means that they drew “majority-minority” districts before any other district was drawn. Why, you ask? Because the VRA insists that race must be a factor in the process. Just because most of the Dems left in the state are black is inconsequential to following the VRA. Likewise, the absurd argument was made this week that the new minority is a “white democrat” and should be protected under the VRA. Excuse me??? I would wager that back when the VRA was passed in the 60’s, 90% of the state of Georgia were white democrats. Now the republican-led state has to deal with the argument that white dems are a “minority”. I’ve heard it all.

      The maps passed on Thursday were far better than anything the dems did in 2000. Don’t believe me? Just look at the maps. Further, look at the map proposed in the House by the dems this week. There were 17 House Members drawn to run against each other in their proposal. All of them were R’s except 2. Case closed.

      You don’t have to like the end point, but obviously you are in the “minority” in this state. I would wager that you are probably in the “new minority”.

      • Doug Deal says:

        Yeah, not a decent effort of engaging brain cells on Rense’s part.

        The lesson for the Democrats in this might be that nearly every provision of law has unitended consquences and the desire to treat every white person as a dyed-in-the-wool racist for nothing but partisan political reasons has backfired a bit.

  2. 22bons says:

    2 questions. 1. Is there a link to the Abram’s map available? 2. What did Elena Parent do to make everyone mad? Paired in both the R and D maps is quite an accomplishment.

    • Doug Grammer says:

      I listened to the exchange, and IMO, the smack down went from Rep. Lindsey to Rep. Abrams. In reality it wasn’t a smack down, but a civil exchange, but I thought Rep. Lindsey got points across that were valid and worth considering. I enjoyed hearing Rep. Abrams state “I don’t think my district matters in the larger scheme of things.” I wonder how her voters feel about that?

      Rep. Ramsey’s questions starting at 2:40:40 to about 2:46 defining a community of interest were also entertaining when talking about Peachtree City.

  3. Doug Grammer says:

    @ Rense,

    Let me respond to your points.

    The V.R.A. was passed before I was born. It’s kind of hard for people to be opposed to it before it was passed if it was passed before they were born.

    There are NO OTHER CIVIL RIGHTS LAWS being discussed. We aren’t falling for a one party hates a race theory, as much as you would want to frame it that way.

    The V.R. A. was passed because of actions of Democratic majority and governance of Georgia by a Democrat Governor and (other states). It was signed into law by L.B.J.

    The V.R. A. is a racial issue, not a partisan one. Race is the basis of the act. It shouldn’t be hard to understand that.

    I resent this particular law because it treats different states differently. If every state had to get pre-clearance, it would much better. The need for the VRA to still be in existence can be debated, but I have a hunch about how that debate would end.

    To end, the V.R.A. had to be considered when drawing the maps or else there would have been a violation of federal law, the V.R. A.

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