Non-profit and non-partisan advocacy organization Common Cause Georgia hosted a town hall on gerrymandering Saturday, June 23 at the Athens-Clarke County Library to discuss how California addressed gerrymandering and how this process can apply to Georgia.
The event began at 1:30 p.m. when Executive Director of Common Cause Georgia Sara Henderson introduced Common Cause and how their goal of holding public officials accountable intersects with the issue of gerrymandering, the practice of drawing district lines to benefit one party.
“We are the most gerrymandered state in the nation,” Henderson said. “People don’t show up to the polls because they think it doesn’t matter. We don’t want to see that. We want everybody to be able to vote and feel like their voice counts.”
Three panelists from the California Citizens Redistricting Commission — Republican commissioner Jodie Filkins Webber, Democrat commissioner Gabino Aguirre and commissioner Stanley Forbes who has no party preference — all spoke about their commission and how California addressed their gerrymandering problem.
“The California Citizens Redistricting Commission is a proven model of ending partisan gerrymandering when it comes to redistricting,” Filkins Webber said. “An independent commission is actually proven to solve the problem of politicians choosing their voters.”
Californian citizens passed Proposition 11, also known as the Voters First Act, in 2008, which created the first ever independent citizens redistricting commission. In 2010, Proposition 20 was passed which gave the commission the responsibility of redrawing congressional boundary lines.
As a result, the commission created new districts built around population equality, minority representation, geographic contiguity, geographic compactness and nesting.
Although Henderson believes California’s totally independent system may not happen in Georgia, she does believe that a system similar to California’s will eventually occur.
“Enough people are angry about the fact that they show up to the polls in November and their district has moved and they have no idea that that happened,” Henderson said.
After the panelists spoke, the commissioners took questions from attendees ranging from the integrity of the redistricting commission to the future of the commission.
Among those who attended the event was Democratic U.S. House of Representatives candidate for District 10 Tabitha Johnson-Green.
“Gerrymandering is an unfair practice,” Johnson-Green said. “We need to develop a non-partisan committee to redraw the district lines. The district lines need to be drawn by members of the community so when we elect officials they will be more representative of that community.”
Gary Garrett of Athens said the town hall event gave him hope toward a solution to the gerrymandering issue.
“Gerrymandering has been a big issue in this state and it has gotten a lot worse with the current Republican leadership in Atlanta,” he said. “I saw no possibility of changing that but this is a little breath of fresh air.”
Common Cause Georgia’s redistricting tours have dramatically increased the attention surrounding gerrymandering, Henderson said.
“We’ve gone from about 7,500 members in this state to over 18,000,” Henderson said. “We have generated through the tour, through email and through text — huge grounds full of support amongst the citizens of the state who are just like, ‘You know what, I’m done with party politics. I just want to make things better.’”