SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – Georgia state lawmakers are considering redistricting at the county level but one public advocacy groups says they’re rushing the process and it may leave many citizens with a lack of understanding of what’s happening in their voting districts.
“Local redistricting maps are important because these districts determine who represents you at the local level, especially in Georgia where we have lots of demographic shifts and changing populations,” said Poy Winichakul, a staff attorney at the Voting Rights Practice Group of the Southern Poverty Law Center.
New redistricting maps for both county commissions and county school boards are being considered and must be approved for all of Georgia’s159 counties. Winichakul says state lawmakers have set a deadline of February 18, just a few weeks away. She says that’s too soon for people in every county in Georgia to learn what’s at stake.
“We want input, we want to encourage state legislators to have hearings, to hear from people directly and not rush the process, said Winichakul.
But state representative Ron Stephens who represents Savannah says lawmakers find themselves under a tight deadline.
“All of this is kind of squashed into a very small window,” said Stephens.
He says candidates running for offuce have to qualify by March 7 and when maps are officially approved, local boards of elections have a lot of work to do. He says lawmakers can’t delay the process.
“That would put a burden on our election boards to be able to get all the information locally for the Commission and the School Board to make sure people are voting in the right district for these candidates,” said Stephens.
In Chatham County, the county commissioners and members of the Chatham County schoolboard began collaborating last year and using new census records, drew up their own maps. Winichakul says the state legislature can come up with it’s own maps and ‘without necessarily input even from the County Commissions or County local governments.’
But Representative Stephens says it seems certain that the legislature will accept the maps as drawn by Chatham County officials.
Stephens also told News 3 that if there is a public hearing that it should be done at the county level and not the state level.
Winichakul says even if Chatham County officials and residents end up being satisfied with the process, there are still 158 other counties. She says if there isn’t input from residents across the entire state, some or maybe many citizens won’t have a say.
“The public should contact their legislators and demand hearings, demand accountability,” says Winichakul. “Elected officials should not have the power to choose who their voters are, it should be that the voters have the power to choose their elected officials.