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As Georgia grows more Democratic, its members of Congress will not

Democratic Rep. Lucy McBath, from Georgia speaks as the House Judiciary Committee hears investigative findings in the impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump, Monday, Dec. 9, 2019. When redrawing her district, Republicans in Georgia removed several Democrat-heavy precincts.
Alex Brandon
Democratic Rep. Lucy McBath, from Georgia speaks as the House Judiciary Committee hears investigative findings in the impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump, Monday, Dec. 9, 2019. When redrawing her district, Republicans in Georgia removed several Democrat-heavy precincts.

ATLANTA — Republicans in Georgia are set to approve a new congressional map that adds to their representation in the U.S. House even as they voted to trim their own majority in the state legislature.

Monday, the Georgia General Assembly will give final passage to a bill that creates nine congressional districts favoring Republicans and five heavily-Democratic districts. The new map swings a northern Atlanta suburban seat more than 25 points to the right and likely pits two Democratic incumbents into a primary challenge.

U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, a Democrat, has held the 6th Congressional district since 2019. Currently, it sits across three counties just north of Atlanta, has one of the highest percentages of college-educated voters and supported President Joe Biden by nearly 12 points in 2020.

The new lines, released Wednesday morning a few hours before the first committee hearing on the bill, remove several Democrat-heavy precincts, leaving behind a district that would have voted for former President Donald Trump by about 15 points.

Republican lawmakers drastically shifted the boundary lines by adding in all or part of three heavily-conservative exurbs, with the northern end of the district closer to Tennessee than Atlanta.

Democrats and voting rights groups have protested the change, which would make it virtually impossible for McBath, a Black lawmaker known for advocacy around gun violence reduction, to win that seat.

"Redistricting in this way — drawing districts so contrived as to be ludicrous, to shore up power that is clearly fading — reads like a balding man trying to fool the world with an embarrassing combover," says state Sen. Michelle Au, a Democrat.

The 7th Congressional district, currently held by Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux, the only Democrat to flip a House seat in the 2020 election, would shrink its geographic footprint to a majority-nonwhite community in Gwinnett and Fulton counties and move from a swing district to a solidly Democratic seat.

Democratic strategists predict that McBath and Bourdeaux will likely have to run against each other in a primary for the new 7th district since both have indicated they wish to keep serving in Congress.

Republicans have defended the map, saying the state's population growth and diversity is fairly reflected in the new districts, even the one that drastically overhauls the partisan makeup of the 6th.

"If you look at any one congressional district, which has close to 800,000 people in it, you're going to find diversity on all levels within any district," redistricting committee chairman John Kennedy of Macon, a Republican, said after the Senate voted along party lines to approve the plan. "We drew the maps as best we could to make sure that they were legal, compliant with the Voting Rights Act to the person, according to the Constitution."

This year is the first major redistricting cycle where Georgia and other jurisdictions with a history of racist and discriminatory voting practices did not have to seek federal pre-clearance of these changes.

A growing Georgia

Georgia has emerged as a nationally-watched battleground state after voting for President Joe Biden, the first Democrat to carry the state in almost 30 years, and sending Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff to the U.S. Senate in a January 2021 runoff that cemented the party's control of the chamber.

It's also ground zero for the fight over voting, with a new 98-page voting law that cracks down on some accessibility to the polls, recurring problems with long lines and voting machine issues and Trump's singular focus on proving he did not lose the state by citing false and non-existent claims of fraud.

In 2022, the state will have tightly contested U.S. Senate and governor's races in which Democrats could win several statewide offices, even as Republicans face a more favorable environment nationwide.

Georgia is on track to become a majority-nonwhite state, if not already. The latest census figures show 50.06% of the state's 10.7 million residents identify as non-Hispanic white, down from 55.88% in 2010.

The state's growth has been fueled almost entirely by diverse residents moving to counties in metro Atlanta's core. Over the last decade, the Asian and Hispanic population grew significantly in Georgia and more than 300,000 new Black residents moved into Atlanta and its surrounding areas alone.

At the state level, this growth and diversification led to concessions from Republican mapmakers that saw several new districts created in Democratic areas in both the state House and Senate redistricting plans.

Republicans currently control 103 of 180 state House districts and 34 of 56 state senate districts. The new House boundaries, now awaiting Gov. Brian Kemp's signature, create one new Republican seat in fast-growing Forsyth County and several new Democratic seats around Atlanta while eliminating seats in rural Georgia and only pairing three sets of incumbent lawmakers who are not retiring.

In the state Senate, Republicans added two new seats in Democratic parts of metro Atlanta by dissolving seats held by two rural Republicans running for higher office but made the district represented by Sen. Michelle Au, the Senate's only Asian American lawmaker, majority-white and conservative-leaning.

That change, and many others made across the three maps, will likely be challenged in court in the coming weeks.

Copyright 2021 Georgia Public Broadcasting

Stephen Fowler is the Producer/Back-Up Host for All Things Considered and a creative storyteller hailing from McDonough, Georgia. He graduated from Emory University with a degree in Interdisciplinary Studies. The program combined the best parts of journalism, marketing, digital media and music into a thesis on the rise of the internet rapper via the intersectionality of social media and hip-hop. He served as the first-ever Executive Digital Editor of The Emory Wheel, where he helped lead the paper into a modern digital era.