OUR OPINIONS: State needs a redistricting panel

Mike King
January 23, 2008

After the 2010 census, the state will have to redraw its congressional and legislative districts. That process ought to be as free of politics and partisanship as possible and focus on what is best for Georgia voters.

Last year, a panel of prominent citizens led by former Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Harold G. Clarke recommended that the state create an independent, seven-member commission to draw districts for the state's congressional and legislative seats. That independent commission should be in place and ready to start work by 2011.

To meet that timetable, however, voters would have to approve a state constitutional amendment this November, when they also go to the polls to vote for a new president.

Without that amendment, the power to draw districts would remain with the General Assembly. Many of its incumbents are beneficiaries of politically drawn districts that maximize their chances for re-election every two years.

During their time in power, Georgia Democrats nearly perfected the process of incumbency protection and maximized their party's control of the redistricting process. To their credit, Republicans have done somewhat better, particularly at the congressional level, but they still draw districts motivated more by political interests than by keeping communities of interest intact.

As proposed, a nonpartisan commission, appointed by the governor and Legislature, would use computer-generated mapping information to create compact districts that take into account established political boundaries and communities of interest, but not the fate of incumbents. The commission's redistricting plan would then go to the Legislature for an up-or-down vote. No changes to the panel's proposed districts would be allowed. If the plan fails, the commission -- not the Legislature -- would be responsible for drawing a new one.

Last year, the General Assembly ignored a resolution (SR 344) giving voters the right to establish a redistricting commission. Georgia voters still deserve the opportunity to break the grip that parties have on the electoral process.