City leaders pass new redistricting map for Richmond County

Published: Dec. 7, 2021 at 9:01 PM EST
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - Augusta commissioners approved a new redistricting map for Richmond County. It’s a map met with controversy from people who live in the Summerville neighborhood, since the new map splits it into two different districts.

Despite the outcry and lawsuit threat from people living in Summerville, the new redistricting map was approved by the Augusta Commission in a 6-4 vote on Tuesday.

This means a neighborhood will be split, and a lawsuit might head the city’s way.

Redistricting must be done every 10 years after the census to ensure that each political district has the same population as other districts of its type. In this case, we’re talking about districts for the Augusta Commission and Richmond County Board of Education.

Under generally accepted redistricting principles, areas of common interest — like neighborhoods — should not be split into separate districts. However, the imperative for equal populations can outweigh that principle.

Tensions were high at Tuesday’s meeting of the commission.

“We were hoping the redistricting committee, are suppose to do their job and listen to the citizens of Augusta Georgia,” said Commissioner Catherine Smith-McKnight, District 3.

“It’s just one of those things that no one really wins,” said Commissioner Alvin Mason, District 4.

The map splits up parts of the Summerville and Forest Hills neighborhoods, taking them out of District 3 into District 2.

“Here’s the problem I have with it: We have several streets in Summerville and in Forrest Hill that one side of the street is going to be in one district and the other side in another,” said McKnight.

Members of the Summerville Neighborhood Association have voiced their dislike for the map since a redistricting committee approved it. During the process, two alternative maps were presented but commissioners say those maps just split up more neighborhoods unfairly.

“One of the maps had me losing seven subdivisions – seven out of District 4. The population in District 4 wasn’t the problem. The problem was the population in District 3, so how does District 4 get seven subdivisions taken away?” said Mason.

Community leaders spoke out saying the alternative maps violated the Voting Rights Act by packing and stacking neighborhoods to weaken the minority vote. Two of those leaders spoke Tuesday in favor of the approved map.

“We find the map to be acceptable. In order words, there are no violations of the voting rights at in the form of gerrymandering,” said James Williams, HOPE president.

“No biases, no prejudices, nothing like that and so I think that’s the very best we can do,” said Mason.

With the outcome not in their favor, the next step for Summerville is a lawsuit.

“I don’t think I know what’s going to happen. We’ve talked about a lawsuit, we’ve talked about meeting with representatives. Just from this meeting today, I’m not surprised at all by the way they voted,” said Maggie Deloach, president of the Summerville Neighborhood Association.

Remember the commission does not have the final vote. The map needed to be approved by the Richmond County Board of Education, which will take place next week.

Then it would go to the state leaders for final approval, and they can also make tweaks.

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