Redistricting Watch: Georgia to Maintain 14 U.S. House Seats

Georgia will not gain or lose any of its 14 House Seats

On Monday, the U.S. Census Bureau held a press conference to announce the apportionment results of the 2020 census. Some states gained seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, while others lost seats. Not Georgia.

The Peach State will remain at 14 U.S. House seats for the next 10 years, but that doesn’t mean that our state hasn’t grown in the last 10 years. In fact, far from it.


Georgia grows by 1 million

While Georgia may have missed out on a 15th District, the state gained about 1 million residents in the last 10 years. 2010 census numbers found that Georgia had a population at nearly 9.7 million. Numbers released on Monday have the state’s population at 10.7 million. Demographic information will not be released until later in the year, but do not be surprised if those numbers show an increase in the state’s nonwhite population.

The 2020 census was the first one in American history in which households could complete their responses online or by phone. It was conducted during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, which likely disrupted census takers as they gathered data for the decennial count. Tension boiled over in 2018 when the Trump administration announced that they would place a citizenship question on the questionnaire, a move that opponents claimed would depress response rates among minority and immigrant communities. The move was ultimately blocked by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2019.

The census is conducted every 10 years to enumerate the number of people living in each state. The data is used for all sorts of things, perhaps the most important of which is congressional representation, which we will go over momentarily. But the numbers are also used to determine how much money the federal government allocates to various communities and how many teachers are hired in school classrooms. It can also be used to decide how many hospitals and even grocery stores are in a community.


Redistricting

As I mentioned, the census data is primarily used to determine how many U.S. House districts are in each state. Georgia may not be gaining or losing any seats, but the numbers will still have a huge impact on how congressional districts are drawn. Like many other states, redistricting in Georgia is conducted by the state legislature with the approval of the governor.

Georgia Democrats have found lots of success in recent statewide elections, from flipping the state at the presidential level for the first time since 1992 and winning two U.S. Senate seats in blockbuster runoff elections. But despite these recent victories, Republicans still maintain large majorities in both chambers of the state legislature, and will therefore have the final say on what the maps will look like.

Dave Wasserman, who analyzes U.S. House elections at the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, believes that state Republicans will try to merge the bluest parts of GA06 and GA07 into one solidly blue district. “The byproduct? A new heavily GOP district in the far-out Atlanta suburbs,” he told me.

He also said that there’s an outside chance that Republicans could go a step further and target both the 6th and the 7th. But he doesn’t think that’s likely: “at the warp speed the ATL suburbs are trending blue, this kind of map could risk backfiring on Republicans later in the 2020s - even if it helps them reclaim the House in the short term,” Wasserman said. He also noted that a map this aggressive could be argued as a racial gerrymander in court.


When will maps be redrawn?

In terms of the timeline, the legislature usually meets in a special session every 10 years for the sole purpose of redrawing congressional and state legislative maps. But because of the late delivery of detailed census data, House Speaker David Ralston doesn’t anticipate a redistricting session to be called until later this fall. When asked on Friday about the timetable for a redistricting session, the Blue Ridge Republican — who is known for his quite colorful mannerisms, quipped that we will have one “when the frost is on the pumpkin.”

So while Georgia might not be gaining a seat, this new census data will have the power to reshape politics in this rapidly changing state for the next 10 years. Democrats may have been victorious in recent elections, but they are once again entering a redistricting cycle with Republicans at the helm of the once-in-a-decade process.

There’s lots of speculation about what the maps might look like, but you can almost certainly expect two things: 1. The process will be lengthy and partisan, as it always is. 2. It will not begin until the end of the year, and it is not out of the question that it could stretch into 2022.