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GA state leaders hold joint reapportionment and redistricting town hall in Columbus

Published: Jul. 28, 2021 at 11:31 PM EDT
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COLUMBUS, Ga. (WTVM) - Columbus residents had the chance to have their voices heard about Georgia’s redistricting process during a joint town hall meeting with state leaders Wednesday evening. The drawing of electoral lines happens once every 10 years following the U.S. Census.

Due to the pandemic, state lawmakers are under a compressed timeline to get the maps drawn before the March 2022 deadline in order qualify for the 2022 elections using the new maps. The full census data needed to draw the lines usually comes out by March or April, but the federal government has extended the deadline to release data to September 30.

Preliminary 2020 Census data shows Georgia’s population has increased by more than one million. This increase is not enough to change the Peach State’s 14 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, but it could mean possible changes in local voting districts.

Georgia’s General Assembly held one of 11 joint reapportionment and redistricting hearings in at the Cunningham Center Wednesday evening.

“There have been large demographic changes. For example, the black voting age population has increased by over 10% since the last census,” said Arreasha Z Lawrence with My Black has a Purpose. “Columbus, Georgia is almost a majority African American, or black, so we want to make sure that we are represented in that fashion. So please as you consider just make sure equal access so no boundaries. We want fair representation,” she said to the committee.

“We need to look away from these party lines and see what people need,” one local pastor said.

“I would like to see all of Muscogee County in one congressional district,” Columbus-Muscogee County Republican Chair Alton Russell said.

“I’m also asking that you release any working draft maps as soon as possible with the designation that it’s a draft,” said Teddy Reese.

“It really isn’t just about drawing the lines. It’s about the trust that we all feel that you are not selecting your voters. You are allowing your voters to select you,” A Columbus State University political science professor said.

Buena Vista Mayor Kevin Brown spoke asking the committee to consider rural communities as they’re redrawing maps. He says challenges Georgia’s rural communities face include dirt roads, broadband and health care.

Transparency is a common theme voters brought up Wednesday. Several voters say they’d like to see more meetings like this one offered at different times and on Saturdays. They also say they’d like these meetings to continue throughout the redistricting process once the 2020 Census data is released.

Once the state committees get the census data, the governor calls a special session to redraw state maps. This typically takes place sometime around the summer, but will likely happen around late fall or winter because of the delayed data results.

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