Expert predicts redistricting will bring changes

ATLANTA -- Georgia’s legislative Republicans will most likely redraw district lines to strengthen the election chances for U.S. Rep. Austin Scott after census results this spring, but they’re also likely to shore up Democratic Rep. Sanford Bishop as well, according to a veteran University of Georgia professor.

Meanwhile, Macon-area lawmakers can probably look forward to geographically larger districts encompassing multiple counties, as state population shifts north.

Detailed census numbers won’t come out until April, but Charles Bullock, a political science professor at the University of Georgia who’s been writing about Southern politics for more than 40 years, is already looking at projections and estimates.

Scott’s district will remain roughly the same, Bullock predicted, in its narrow arc shape from Moultrie to the south suburbs of Atlanta.

“If the seat had still been held by (Democrat) Jim Marshall, there might be a temptation to cut off the bottom of the district,” he said. But since Scott lives in the southern portion of his district, that plan’s out.

Yet, Scott’s margin of victory was not huge, and in presidential election years, more minority voters turn out, Bullock said. Thus, “I think the district will be redrawn to make it more Republican, ... maybe push it into Walton County.”

Bullock predicted a population swap roughly between Scott’s and Bishop’s districts, which would bolster both incumbents.

If reapportionment “tampers” much with Bishop’s district and tries to turn it Republican, the federal Department of Justice wouldn’t approve the drawing, Bullock suggested.

Under the federal Voting Rights Act, the Department of Justice must vet all redistricting maps to verify that minority voters are not adversely affected. That act applies to much of the Deep South.

The census has yet to release close-up Macon data, but Bullock has inspected projections and estimates and said the city population is falling.

“When you see an area where population is declining and a state growing as rapidly as Georgia is, that’s going to make it hard to maintain the districts you have,” he said of state House and Senate seats. He explained that in other cases, there has been an effort to keep the same number of seats in a county delegation, but just make those seats geographically larger and extend into other counties. That pattern might repeat itself this year.

A new rural black caucus in the state Legislature is aiming to increase the number of rural African-Americans in elected office. But at the state level, that will be difficult, Bullock said.

“There are far fewer majority black counties than 40, 50 years ago,” he said, meaning that black families have moved disproportionately to urban areas.

That, combined with the rural white voter switch to the Republican Party, means poor prospects for any rural black Democrat.

“There are fewer rural legislators at all, of either color,” Bullock said.

The Republican-dominated state Legislature will employ staffers to start redrawing districts as soon as detailed information comes out in April. At a yet-unnamed date this summer, a legislative special session will convene to debate the maps and eventually send what it crafted to the Department of Justice.

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