Thursday, March 29, 2012

Breaking: Georgia House Fails to Pass Redistricting Map for Richmond County

Thursday, March 29, 2012
Posted at 9:50pm
Augusta, GA
From Reports

Well it looks like we are back to square one when it comes to redistricting maps for Augusta-Richmond County. We told you in an earlier article how the redistricting saga and the lack of a finalized map has been creating confusion for voters and candidates running for the Augusta Commission and Richmond County School Board. Earlier in the week it appeared there would be a new map... called Map 2-R, which was one of the drafts considered by the ad-hoc redistricting committee last fall. That committee, however, endorsed Map 3-R unanimously, but it failed to get the endorsement of the full Augusta Commission and stalled in the state legislature.

Last week, State Sen. Hardie Davis Jr (D Augusta) and State Sen. Jesse Stone (R Waynesboro) agreed to withdraw any action on redistricting and to simply go with current maps drawn after the 2000 census. However, that could put Richmond County in jeopardy of having the federal courts step in and redraw the maps without any local input. But this past Monday, at the urging of Augusta Mayor Deke Copenhaver, State Sen. Jesse Stone introduced Map-2R in a senate committee. It passed along party lines.

But The GA House  blocked Map 2-R from moving forward in a marathon session today. State   Reps. Wayne Howard, Quincy Murphy, Gloria Frazier and Earnest Smith refused to sign on to an agree or disagree resolution which halted Map-2R from going before the full House floor for a vote. This means that the current maps drawn up after the 2000 census will be used. But that leaves Richmond County in danger of being held in violation of the 14th amendment of the US Constitution because of population shifts that have occurred in the past 10 years. The federal courts could step in if someone files a lawsuit challenging use of the old maps.

The Nuclear Option
This means that Augusta-Richmond County has been put on the brink of the nuclear option: court drawn maps. We are at Def-Con 2. That means that it could be months before candidates and voters know for certain what the final voting maps may look like. This puts voters and candidates in limbo and the election is just a little more than 4 months away. Court drawn maps could look completely different from anything that has been considered thus far. The courts have no obligation to keep incumbents in separate districts  and keep neighborhoods intact within the same voting district.

And if the courts get involved over the redistricting maps that means they could also throw out  State Senate Bill 92 that moved Local non-partisan elections from the November General Election to July. So at this point, nothing is certain.

Yep, this could be a real mess. But like we said it could have all been averted months ago. Map 3-R was passed unanimously by the local ad-hoc committee on Nov. 29, 2011. But then the Augusta Commission managed to muck things up by withholding its endorsement of the map, with two of the redistricting committee members voting against it on the commission when they had voted for it just a week earlier.

And then  Mayor Copenhaver  has shown absolutely no leadership on the issue whatsoever. The Mayor was absent from the crucial December 6 commission meeting that resulted in a tie vote on Map-3R that he could have broke. He later said that had he been at the meeting he would have voted in favor of Map 3-R. Then the Mayor  reneged on a promise to sign a letter of endorsement of Map-3R requested by Commissioner Alvin Mason.

So maybe in the end it's better for the courts to step in and take over the process. The Augusta Commission, Mayor Copenhaver and the local legislative delegation have proven themselves to be incapable of handling the task of redistricting, and in the process the voters and those seeking office have been held hostage. More to come***

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