Photo by Curt Yeomans
This proposed re-districting map shows the new, planned boundaries for Clayton County’s commission districts. The Georgia General Assembly has approved the map, and it is now awaiting Gov. Nathan Deal’s signature. The U.S. Department of Justice must then OK it.
The redistricting map for the Clayton County Board of Commissioners cleared a big hurdle toward becoming a reality this week when the Georgia Senate approved legislation that redrew the county’s proposed districts.
The Senate approved the map on Tuesday, following the state House of Representatives’ decision to OK the redistricting plan on March 7. The key changes to the commission districts under the plan include moving western Jonesboro, and much of Lovejoy from Commission Vice Chairman Wole Ralph’s district, to Commissioner Michael Edmondson’s district. The commissioners set the map on Feb. 7.
Legislative approval was a key step in getting the county’s four commission districts set in stone for the next decade, but there are still two more hurdles at the state and federal levels, which must be cleared.
“It’ll go to Gov. [Nathan] Deal for his signature, and we don’t expect any real problems there,” said State Rep. Roberta Abdul-Salaam (D-Riverdale), the Clayton County Legislative Delegation’s chairperson. “After the governor signs off on it, it goes to the [U.S.] Department of Justice for final approval.”
Clayton County, like other counties across the state, had to submit redrawn county commission and school board lines for state and federal approval, as part of the once-every-10 years re-districting process. The state’s legislative and congressional districts underwent redistricting last year. All of the seats that needed redistricting had to be re-drawn based upon 2010 U.S. Census figures.
Many of the legislators’ approved redistricting maps for county commissions and school boards are awaiting Deal’s signature, so it remains to be seen how long it will take him to sign the Clayton commission’s redistricting legislation. Abdul-Salaam said she does not expect the Department of Justice to take long to approve the map once it is OKed by the governor.
Georgia is one of several southern states which must seek Justice Department approval of redistricting maps, under the terms of the federal Voting Rights Act, because of its history with “Jim Crow” laws that discriminated against minorities.
“It [Justice Department review] usually doesn’t take too long because most of it is now done electronically,” Abdul-Salaam said. “We don’t anticipate any problems with receiving approval.”
She added, however, that time is limited because two of the four commission districts are up for re-election this year, and qualifying for those seats will occur later this spring. The state’s primary elections will take place on July 31. “I do believe it’s got to be done soon if it’s going to be effective for the elections in July,” the state representative said.
Commission Chairman Eldrin Bell said he was cautiously holding back from celebrating the General Assembly’s approval of the redistricting map, however. “We all have to wait to see what the Justice Department says,” he said.
He said he was concerned about “equity,” however, in case the new map is not set in stone in time for the elections. That would mean people in Lovejoy, for example, might have to vote for the commission’s District 3 seat (Ralph’s seat) this year, even though the new map could be approved shortly thereafter — which would move them to District 4 (Edmondson’s district).
But, while the commission map is moving forward toward final approval, the Clayton County Board of Education’s map has gone nowhere. The school board approved its own redistricting in January, but no legislation has been introduced to approve that redistricting plan. With only a handful of days left in the current legislative session, Abdul-Salaam said “no changes will be made” to the school board district’s map this year.
She declined to elaborate as to why no school board redistricting legislation has been introduced, but she did say “they [the school system] didn’t do the proper paperwork” needed to get the legislation created.
The school board’s chairperson, Pam Adamson, and its attorney, Glenn Brock, refuted that claim, however. They said a map, and a school board resolution, were submitted to the delegation. Adamson added that the district got little feedback from the delegation on the status of the school board’s redistricting efforts.
“We’ve done everything they’ve asked us to do,” she said. “I don’t know what else we could have done.”
It is unclear what will happen to the school system if the General Assembly does not approve legislation to redraw the school board’s districts. Abdul-Salaam said the Justice Department could step in and issue a ruling on the issue, but she was not sure if the department would redraw the boundaries for the school district.
Brock, too, said he was unsure of what the next steps would be, adding that he would have to look into it next week.
“One thing is for certain, that is the districts can’t stay the way they are,” he said.