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Redistricting heads to the next stage

Georgia redistricting map as of Sept. 1.

Georgia redistricting map as of Sept. 1.

Well, that was quick.

Redistricting can be a protracted job in Georgia, but everything went like clockwork this time around and the Legislature has adjourned its special session.

And the results?

Big gains go to north Georgia and Republicans.

Big losses go to rural Georgia, including our area, and Democrats.

Tabulating the winners and losers is hardly a shocking endeavor. Most of Georgia's population growth over the past decade has been in north Georgia, which resulted in the state's newest congressional district, the 14th, being carved out in northeast Georgia. And with Republicans firmly in charge of both the legislative and executive branches, there was little doubt as to which party would benefit more from this new district.

Meanwhile, House and Senate districts in rural areas, including Southwest Georgia, have grown territorially as well to capture enough population to ensure the one-person, one-vote requirement. Dougherty County lost some legislative clout with the district held by Rep. Ed Rynders, R-Leesburg, moving north of the county line, but has maintained three state representatives with the eastward incursion of District 151, which is home to two incumbents now -- longtime state Reps. Bob Hanner, R-Parrott, and Gerald Green, R-Cuthbert, who will have to face off if both want to stay in the House.

The reaction of the political parties' representatives has been equally predictable. Republicans are touting the three redistricting plans -- Congress, state House and state Senate -- as fairly drawn, adding black-majority districts and in compliance with the requirements of the Voting Rights Act. Democrats charge there is gerrymandering afoot for the express purpose of weakening their party and the influence of minority voters.

Both sides are right. The districts -- the first set drawn in Georgia by the GOP -- are designed to bolster the party's dominance and, by extension, weaken the Democratic Party by compacting it into certain districts and making it tougher for white Democrats to stay in office. But they also look to be in general compliance with the requirements of the Voting Rights Act, as the Republicans state.

Gerrymandering, by the way, was no foreign concept to Democrats when they ruled the state. A federal court tossed out a Democratic-drawn state legislative redistricting plan based on the 2000 census and redrew the lines itself. And there has never been a district in Georgia more designed for political reasons that the Democrats' design that year of a Republican district they drew in Southwest Georgia that stretched 50 miles from Lee County to Thomas County and resembled a squashed squid in shape, all to pit Republican Rep. Doug Everett of Leesburg against another Republican, Rep. John Bulloch of Thomas County. In fact, the district looked like it had been drawn by Salvador Dali.

Oh, and in a familiar refrain, Republicans back then argued the districts were unfair and designed to shove Republicans into certain districts to make more districts friendly to Democratic candidates.

Fairness always seems to come down to perspectives -- the perspective of the ox gorer and the perspective of the ox being gored.

It's inevitable that these two arguments will be heard by the federal government, but the forum is undecided. Under the Voting Rights Act, Georgia is one of a number of states that is held to a different standard than others in that any changes to the state's voting system must be cleared by the federal government. There are two pathways for that clearance: review by the Department of Justice or by the U.S. Courts. Attorney General Sam Olens, Gov. Nathan Deal and legislative leaders were expected to huddle up today to decide which avenue to take. Odds are, however, that they'll bypass a review by a Justice Department under the Obama administration and take their chances with a federal judge.

No plan created by a politically-charged process will ever be completely fair. But when it's all said and done, we'd be surprised if these particular plans fail to pass muster with the federal courts.

-- The Albany Herald Editorial Board