Comment Now on Redistricting

Gerrymandering diagram

The clock is ticking for making your voice heard in how you are represented at the Gold Dome and U.S. Capitol.

The Georgia General Assembly has a public form for submitting comment online regarding redistricting, which for most Georgia residents may be the only means by which they can shape an otherwise tightly-controlled process.

To date, only three comments have been submitted from Columbus-Muscogee:

A. Russell of Muscogee County:

we would like all of Muscogee to be in one district. it would be my idea for Muscogee, Harris, and Meriweather to all 3 move to the 2dd Congressional District. thank you for this meeting.

A. Corley of Muscogee County:

I have bodycam footage of the kidnapping that was concealed during the TPR. I have SAAG Kent Lawrence and Mathias Skrowneak signatures on orders that they prepared for the Judges to sign. Kidnapping is a felony and placing my daughter up for an unlawful adoption is human trafficking. I have everything properly documented and authenticated with certification and seal. I also have audio recordings. Gov. Kemp was forwarded everything from Senators Johnny Isakson and Kelly Loeffler’s office as, federal government had to give the the State opportunity to investigate before they could. Gov. Kemp can do something as, he appointed the Commissioners for DHS. Gov. Kemp can do something as, he is head of the State of Georgia and is the executive level. Gov. Kemp had the authority and responsibility to enforce the laws made by the General Assembly. The executive branch which Gov. Kemp is under is defined as: Executive Georgia’s main executive official and head of state is the governor.

H. Underwood of Muscogee County (yours truly):

Good evening committee members, my name is Harry Underwood. I’m a resident of Columbus, a resident of Georgia since 1993 and a board member of Better Ballot Georgia, which advocates for instant-runoff voting, also known as ranked-choice voting. I’d like to take this opportunity to tell you how shameful and tiring I find this practice of redistricting by elected legislators, and how we Georgians ought to know better that this political system – of winner-take-all elections, of partisan redistricting by legislators, of restrictive ballot access laws – perpetuate a baked-in culture of constant two-way factional disrespect, drowning out the needs of our state’s residents. Other than these United States, no other political system on earth has quite the amount of unilateral temerity shared among so many elected legislators to bake in incumbent advantages for their own (and their friends’ own) benefit over the next ten years. The people of this state – no matter what party we may support – should feel upset that our elected legislators won’t let themselves compete on competitive grounds nor let themselves be judged by their ideas and goals for legislation across whole communities, not partitioned neighborhoods who are traded between districts because of their partisan lean. We have done this for over 200+ years, with one party having done this for most of this time, and another party which gained power in the early 2000s now doing the same thing. It is time to say “enough”. The people of this state should demand a better political system than that being exhibited through this committee. Georgia should adopt independent, nonpartisan redistricting by a jury of citizens representative of our state’s demographics. Georgia should adopt multi-winner districts and proportional elections systems including ranked-choice voting. Georgia should let those who want less compromise on their political principles register their own political parties with less cost and overhead than is currently, irrationally demanded under state law, so that we could have even more competitive elections. Georgia should adopt rules which count our state’s prisoners, who are currently barred from the voting franchise, as residents of their last voluntary residence rather than of their current prison, so that prison-hosting districts are not artificially inflated in their numbers during the redistricting process. And finally, Georgia should join 30 other states, including our neighbors in South Carolina, North Carolina and Tennessee, in adopting a state constitutional amendment requiring all elections in this state to be free, fair and open without civil or military interference. These five reforms could make for more elections which are reflective of our communities and demographic changes without legislators feeling the need to create maps which bake in their own advantages over the course of at least the next five successive legislative elections. These reforms could make for elections in which candidates feel more of a need to seek consideration from all voters, not merely those who “look” like they would vote for a certain party. And these reforms could set the guardrails for how our demographics are represented in our General Assembly without pitting our legislators against their constituents. I ask the members of this committee to consider the adoption of nonpartisan redistricting, instant-runoff voting, fairer ballot access laws, a ban on prison gerrymandering, and a free elections amendment to our state constitution. Thank you.

By comparison:

  • 89 from Fulton
  • 72 from DeKalb
  • 46 from Athens-Clarke
  • 25 from Cobb
  • 25 from Forsyth
  • 18 from Macon-Bibb
  • 17 from Gwinnett
  • 11 from Rockdale
  • 10 from Augusta-Richmond
  • 9 from Cherokee
  • 9 from Glynn
  • 8 from Chatham
  • 6 from Dougherty
  • 6 from Whitfield
  • 5 from Camden
  • 5 from Fayette
  • 5 from Hall
  • 5 from Henry
  • 4 from Baldwin
  • 4 from Bartow
  • 4 from Clayton
  • 4 from Columbia
  • 4 from Oconee
  • 3 from Barrow
  • 3 from Floyd
  • 3 from Houston
  • 3 from Jackson
  • 3 from Madison
  • 3 from Newton
  • 3 from Tift
  • 2 from Decatur
  • 2 from Pickens
  • 2 from McIntosh
  • 2 from Morgan
  • 2 from Towns
  • 2 from Walker
  • 2 from Ware
  • 1 from Bryan
  • 1 from Bulloch
  • 1 from Burke
  • 1 from Carroll
  • 1 from Chattooga
  • 1 from Coweta
  • 1 from Crisp
  • 1 from Dade
  • 1 from Douglas
  • 1 from Effingham
  • 1 from Gilmer
  • 1 from Harris
  • 1 from Johnson
  • 1 from Jones
  • 1 from Monroe
  • 1 from Montgomery
  • 1 from Toombs
  • 1 from Walker
  • 1 from Walton
  • 1 from Washington
  • 1 from White

In the meantime, a special session of the General Assembly has been called by Governor Kemp for November 3 to redraw congressional and legislative districts for the next ten years. Partisan gerrymandering is likely, with no constitutional guardrails in place at the state level and the process being controlled by Republican legislators.

In addition, it will be the first redistricting process since the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act’s preclearance provisions, meaning that state legislatures do not have to submit their maps to the U.S. Justice Department for review for any racial bias prior to implementation. Finally, it is possible that bills will be filed to ban local governments from issuing mask or vaccine mandates, a bete noire of Republicans nationwide.

SPLOST Referendum Scheduled for November 2

A SPLOST referendum for Columbus has been scheduled for November 2. On the ballot is a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (or SPLOST). A “Yes” vote would raise the current sales tax in Columbus from 8% to 9% for nine months, starting in April 2022. The goal is to raise $400 million, $200 million of which will go to rebuilding or renovating the existing, deteriorating Government Center and to build a new Judicial Center.

In addition, according to the question on the ballot, the other $200 million would be dedicated to “Road, Street, and Bridge Improvements; Trials and Sidewalks; Storm Water Projects; Parks and Recreation Projects; Golf Facilities; Public Safety; General Government Vehicles and Equipment; Technology Enhancements; Columbus Ironworks Convention and Trade Center Improvements; Columbus Civic Center; and Economic Development (collectively, the “Capital Projects”)”.

If “No” prevails, the sales tax would go back to 8%. The most recent renewal of the 1% sales tax was approved in June 2020 for the Muscogee County School District.

Early Voting Begins October 12-29, from 7:30am to 5:30pm, with weekend voting on Saturday October 16, Saturday October 23 and Sunday October 24. Early voting will take place at the Citizen Service Center on Citizen Way. Absentee ballot applications are open to October 22, with a dropbox being available only during Early Voting hours (meaning that the dropbox is locked overnight, thanks to the odious SB202). Absentee voting applications are being accepted from now until October 24; applications can be downloaded, filled out digitally and emailed to muscogeeelectionsandregistration@columbusga.gov.

Background

This is the first non-educational SPLOST specific to Columbus in over a decade, and would go to either renovating or demolishing and rebuilding the Government Center, which was first constructed in 1968 prior to consolidation and has suffered deterioration at multiple levels in recent years, including an infamous incident in which a ruptured pipe dumped bird feces, leaves and other debris into Superior Court Judge Gil McBride’s office, resulting in the cancellation of several court hearings, as well as 36K gallons of toilet water flooding a courtroom in the building due to toilet repair (followed two weeks later by another flooding).

A T-SPLOST renewal for the River Valley region was approved by the other county commissions of the region for 2020 except for Columbus-Muscogee, with Mayor Skip Henderson saying in 2019 that Council would campaign against placing the item on the 2020 ballot if it conflicted with the aforementioned general SPLOST. The general SPLOST itself ended up being delayed to November 2 2021, while the T-SPLOST renewal for River Valley was absent from the June 9 2020 consolidated primary ballot. The River Valley Regional Commission has the option of placing the T-SPLOST renewal on the 2022 ballot.

Read more about the history of SPLOSTS and other local ballot questions here.

On the Brnovich and AFP decisions, and why federalism is terrible for voting rights

Part 1

After these voting rights and campaign finance decisions by SCOTUS today, state governments which purport to be the leaders on voting rights should be having a long, serious think about how to work together and strengthen each other against a SCOTUS which wants to devolve everything about elections to the state level, feed their most craven aristocrats and gut the social safety net.

This fight should not entirely rest on non-profit orgs working together, nor on attorneys-general mounting multi-state fights in the federal judiciary, nor on mere voting rights expansion at the state level. How are these state legislatures working together? Enacting interstate compacts between each other? Blurring the bureaucratic lines between each other?

How are these pro-voting rights states counteracting the Federalist Society’s obsession with states’ rights when it comes to elections? How are these pro-voting rights states maximizing their own impact beyond state lines? Or are any and all of these voting rights expansions simply for those residents who are “lucky” to still live in these pro-voting rights states?

The VRA is dying by 1,000 papercuts. Be a bit more creative.

Part 2

How many other countries have these legal fights over voting rights? I NEVER hear about fights over redistricting in other countries.
In other countries, I never hear about “color-blind” opportunistic attacks by random regional poobahs on the ability and confidence of urban residents, car-less people, people on reservations, people who have been released from prison and finished their sentence, disabled residents, illiterate residents, introverted people, working-class people, elderly people, college students, and homeless people to register to vote, cast a vote, have that vote counted, and have proportionate legislative representation based on that vote.

What do I hear about in other countries’ elections? Citizenship being stripped. Ballot stuffing. Candidates being removed from the ballot over specious reasons. Mis- and dis-info trafficking. Violent voter intimidation at the polls. The John Howard government in Australia ending the week-long grace period for federal voter registration in 2006, which was then reversed by their Supreme Court.

But here? It’s bureaucratic and systemic. And so many people strongly believe that all of these opportunistic attacks are worth it for the sake of maintaining a majority which protects their “way of life” against some random bunch of out-groups which may undermine it.

And yet, we continue to fight these state governments because we live in these states, we have higher, broader expectations about our basic rights than the limitations of the privileged in-group, we can’t up and relocate ourselves as the monied and able-bodied can, and people don’t really factor voting rights into their reasons for relocating to any state.
But so much of how our elections are ran, and how our voting rights are put through the meatgrinder, results from the fact that we use single-winner districts and first-past-the-post elections for our legislative bodies and assume that this winner-take-all system can be improved in any way.

If our legislative elections, from local to federal, are opportunistic winner-take-all exercises, then why the hell do we expect our legislative districts or operations of legislative sessions or appointments to judicial and bureaucratic bodies to be any different? How could we possibly think that nonpartisan redistricting would make for fairer boundaries in a winner-take-all system? How could we possibly think that the Federalist Society, Heritage Foundation, Manhattan Institute, and other chronically-aristocratic actors would have any interest in inserting nonpartisan mechanisms when the winner can literally win EVERYTHING and nonpartisanship does not exist in a two-way fight? How could we think that Democrats who hold office by virtue of winner-take-all in captive jurisdictions like VRA districts would want to give that up by virtue of their own magnanimity?

We sleptwalked right into this over the last 50-60 years, and our “nonpartisan”, “bipartisan” solutions for fixing this two-player, winner-take-all system aren’t worth shit.

These decisions from SCOTUS today should be your wake-up call. Your winner-take-all elections are the utter rot that is sinking your community. Stop with the “nonpartisan” narrative. Use a better election system than winner-take-all, or suffer the consequences as you already were.

Liberals and progressives are losing against the voter ID regime

The Voter ID mongers seem to have won the longer narrative war when Joe Manchin tees it up as a federal compromise for voting rights reform and Democrats treat it as something worthwhile if feds can set the standards.

I don’t think we appreciate how deeply and broadly that Voter ID has been mainstreamed since 9/11, and how opponents have not done a good job countering the demand for it or rebutting the arguments of pro-Voter ID advocates, despite the pro-Republican bias of most advocates. Even the ACLU has done a terrible job countering the Voter ID narrative.
It has been successful in arguments such as “Mexico and Canada have identification, why don’t we?” and “Democrats assume minorities are too stupid to get ID” and “Democrats register dead people and ‘illegals’ to vote”. Now it has progressed to “Black people are in favor of Voter ID according to polls”.

It has been a long and sustained campaign. But for the first time since the 2nd Bush admin, we’re now talking about federally tightening and streamlining laws on voter ID to mollify “both sides”, even though at least 14 states have never adopted (or have ditched) ID requirements at polling places (most recently Virginia).

And maybe the Voter ID supporters are right something that numerous other countries with varying levels of political freedom require at the polling place, including Mexico and Canada. Maybe those 14 states are backwards-facing in terms of election administration.

But the United States, as a whole, is uniquely obstinate, stubborn and backwards-facing in terms of voter registration. And even HR1 gets it wrong by not including one thing that could move voter registration forward: a federal voter roll.

But we never developed a rebuttal to the argument that “maybe you think minorities are too stupid to get ID”.

Something about that argument sends me up the fucking wall. Maybe that was the intent.

The logic is that minorities should prove their intelligence by obtaining “free” ID because white conservatives are inconvenienced by having to use ID to buy a gun, buy a beer or go through TSA. And if “welfare is slavery” and the Democratic Party is a “plantation”, then Black people are “slaves” who are not really intelligent and who need to prove our ability to cast the “right” vote, so we must prove our intellectual worth by jumping through the “simple”, “free” exercise of obtaining an ID.

This is weird. For so many Dems, Voter ID is a costly, anti-working-class poll tax. For Republicans, it’s a literacy test of intelligence, a shibboleth, and a necessity.

Nickie Tillery wins special election for School Board District 2

Nickie Tillery has won the special election in Muscogee County School Board District 2, defeating John “Bart” Steed 67.4% to 32.6%. Tillery will fill the remaining term of the late Mike Edmondson, who died on February 10, 2021 at the age of 66 from a brief fight with cancer.

This was Steed’s second attempt at the seat, last running in 2014 and ending up in third place behind John F. Thomas and then-incumbent John Wells, with Thomas ending up defeating Wells in a runoff. Steed owns and operates Kar Tunes Car Stereo and Lube Plus.

The seat will be on the ballot in circa June 2022.

weekend whiplash, five years ago

I still remember five years ago, when I had driven up to what is now South Fulton to the State of Black Sci-Fi Convention. I got to meet Milton Davis, Darrell Johnson, Balogun Ojetade and several others, and was especially glad that we had someone (Darrell) writing LGBT-inclusive Black-oriented speculative fiction, for youth and YA even! And that Milton is from Columbus! Quite an experience, was wishing I could come back for Sunday but that was out of the question.

Got back home, got to sleep, woke up and saw the news of a mass shooting at an LGBT nightclub in Orlando the night before.

One of the worst mornings I’ve had in my life. Whiplash.

A History of Georgia’s Party Primary Ballot questions

I’m writing this post to document the history of the limited access to direct democracy in the U.S. state of Georgia, and especially about the potential small-d democratic opportunities which can be used to advise city, county and state legislators. For reference, here is a Google Drive folder of all the party advisory questions placed on the ballot in Georgia at state and county levels since 2000 (ongoing at the moment).

History of direct democracy in Georgia

Georgia mostly missed the boat, or rather, the tide of the initiative & referendum movement which took more westward states by storm in the late 19th-early 20th century. From 1911-1913, the General Assembly moved to extend initiative, referendum and recall rights to the residents of four cities, including Atlanta. The first ballot measures for legislatively-referred constitutional amendments took place in 1924. The first amendments to be rejected at the ballot were five out of 13 proposed amendments on the November 4, 1930 ballot. The most recent proposed amendments to fail at the ballot was Amendment 1 on the November 8, 2016 ballot, which would have established the so-called “Opportunity School District” as a statewide at-large school district over public schools deemed “chronically failing”.

In addition, county and city governments can place questions on the ballot for all voters, and can choose a date. Counties can place a question on the ballot (whether in the nonpartisan section of a primary ballot, or on the general election ballot) by one of the following means:

  • county commissioners voting to place the question on the ballot
  • citizens gathering a required number of petition signatures to amend (or veto changes to) local ordinances, resolutions, and regulations.

Either option requires a majority of the city or county’s delegation in the General Assembly to file a bill in support of the referendum, and for the General Assembly to approve the bill.

In addition, there is a third way to put a question on the ballot, one which is advisory in most ways but can have an indirect, motivating impact on legislation.

Party Advisory Questions on Primary Ballots

Around April 1997, a law allowing for parties to place advisory questions on the primary ballot was passed by the General Assembly, making Georgia only one of three states to allow parties’ chairs to place questions on primary ballots (alongside Texas and South Carolina). In 2000, the Richmond County Republican Party became the first recorded county party to use this law to place a question on the primary ballot, doing so with 6 questions that year. The practice increased across many counties over the next five primaries, and in 2012 questions were placed for the first time on statewide primary ballots, with both the Democratic Party of Georgia placing 4 questions and the Georgia Republican Party placing 5.

On a few occasions in a few counties, both parties have placed the same question on the ballot, including Rockdale in 2012 and Pickens in 2018, both of which were related to the form of government to be taken by the county government. To date, no statewide primary ballot has had both parties place the question on the same ballot.

Due to the way that such polls are written, they’re usually fluffy questions which do not deviate from the party’s already-established platform. The few times that a question is fielded from outside of party orthodoxy is usually intended to gin up primary voter opposition to the question.

Marijuana/Cannabis on the Georgia Ballot

Only a few good-faith questions which deviate from party orthodoxy have been fielded by county parties, such as Henry County Republicans’ 2020 Question 4, asking Republican voters whether marijuana should be legalized and taxed to the same extent as alcohol. Republican voters approved this question 9,849 to 9,415 (51.13%-48.87%). However, in 2018, two similar questions (one asking whether medical marijuana should be legalized, and another asking the same for recreational marijuana) provided a more complicated picture among Republican voters in multiple, largely-rural counties, with 6 counties’ Republican primaries registering lopsided support for medical marijuana but the same voters in 3 of those counties registering lopsided opposition to recreational marijuana (those being the only counties which polled Republicans on recreational marijuana that year).

By comparison, marijuana has been on at least one county’s Democratic ballot every year since 2014, all winning lopsidedly at the polls:

  • Cherokee and Whitfield Dems on recreational, Richmond Dems on medical (2014)
  • Catoosa Dems on medical marijuana (2016)
  • Forsyth and Glynn Dems on recreational (2018)
  • Forsyth and Walton Dems for recreational (2020)

How to capitalize on advisory questions

I think that party advisory questions, while incredibly flawed in only being placed by party leaders on separate primary ballots, offer an opportunity for massive polling of the primary-voting public on issues, not only for well-established party platforms but also for newer ideas which have yet to be incorporated into party platforms. In addition, polling of the primary-voting public through advisory questions can offer glimpses into regional divides, nuances and knowledge about newer ideas.

For example, Cobb4Transit’s post on the results of two 2020 Democratic advisory questions in Cobb County – Question 7 on a one-center sales tax for transit funding, and Question 8 on MARTA expansion into Cobb – provides an in-depth look at the nuances of support for these positions on the Democratic side in Cobb County.

A 2020 Republican statewide question (Republican Question 2), which called for establishing closed party primaries to determine primary winners, failed by 1-2%. The data shows that the idea has support among Republicans in northern and coastal Georgia, with the greatest opposition coming from western, middle and southern Georgia Republicans. A similar question was asked to South Carolina Republicans in the 2018 and 2020 primaries, receiving 92.30% and 86.47% respectively.

I expect marijuana legalization to be on the Democratic statewide party primary ballot in 2022. It may be the biggest question that the Democratic Party of Georgia hasn’t yet asked on the statewide ballot, after a near decade of asking primary voters their position on already-settled party positions such as Medicaid expansion, expanding HOPE access and gun control.

Similarly, for LGBT civil rights activists, Whitfield’s 2014 Democratic Question 6 and Cobb’s 2020 Democratic Question 11, both of which asked voters whether their county should pass a non-discrimination law covering sexual orientation and gender identity (Cobb’s listed more categories), received resounding endorsements, winning 75.58% in Whitfield and 97.41% in Cobb. This is another question that the DPG State Chair should be encouraged to ask to Democrats statewide, in regards to the proposed Georgia Civil Rights Act.

But finally, more county commissions should be encouraged to follow Wisconsin’s example in placing advisory questions on the November general election ballot.



Another Day in Anti-Democracy

Today, Montana repealed same-day voter registration and created a new law requiring students to provide secondary documentation to support one’s student ID in order to register to vote.

Today, Florida passed a law denying bail to those accused of a crime at a protest.

Today, Idaho’s Senate passed a bill raising the number of legislative districts from which a ballot initiative campaign must gather petition signatures to 6% of registered voters from all 35 legislative districts.

Sometimes I wonder if Democrats are to blame for these regressions because we are not spread out enough and are moving more to suburbs, cities and “coasts”. Or at least it seems like we’re blamed for our relocation habits, and that Republicans are taking out violent and administrative political revenge against the cities.

The further you get from the South or Midwest, the less that Black people have to constitute an appreciable segment of the population for white people to support voter suppression. Black people, like three of my sisters/nieces (Jaden, Tanisha and Jasmine) or the current Helene Mayor Wilmot Collins (the first Black mayor of any city in Montana since statehood), constitute 0.50% of Montana’s population.

Who are Montana and Idaho screwing over? Native Americans. College students, especially those from out of state. People of Mexican or Central American descent. Urban/suburban voters who may vote for Medicaid expansion.

We agree on less and less policy with white rural voters who fear losing power to even white people in suburban areas.

Seeing the shit-eating grin of Montana’s governor as he takes pictures signing this shit bill is angering.

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