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Senator Carter on Redistricting

Senator Jason Carter gave a clear and concise speech outlining what the new congressional maps will do, highlighting the conflict between the maps and the parameters of the Voting Rights Act, and what this means for Georgia's minority voters.  Watch the video below or scroll down for a typed transcript.

Click here for Georgia WAND's guide to redistricting telling you everything you need to know about the Voting Rights Act, the new congressional maps, and what you can do.


"I am convinced that redistricting is important. This is the only chance we have to create rules for our political system. In making these maps the legislature defines the structure of our democracy. Over the last few weeks I’ve heard misapplications of the law and intentional falsehoods about the Voting Rights Act and I didn’t understand why, or the magnitude of what was going on, until late last week.

I kept trying to understand how the majority party could read the law, and understand the history, and come to the conclusion that they were correct about the Voting Rights Act. As I sat with John Lewis last week before he testified before the House Reapportionment Committee, I realized they don’t want to follow the Voting Rights Act. They want to change the Voting Rights Act because they don’t like the results. You want to turn the Voting Rights Act on its head and turn it into a tool of racial division instead of the tool of reconciliation that it is intended and was always intended to be. And you’ve done this with a campaign of misinformation about the meaning of Section 5 of the Voting Right’s Act. It confused the public, it confused the media, and it almost confused me. But I’m going to take 5 short minutes to set the record straight.

First, in drawing these maps there are two sections of the Voting Rights Act; Section 2 and Section 5. They are different laws.  Section 2 applies to the whole country and ensures equality of opportunity.

Section 5 is different and special. It applies only to certain places with a history of discrimination and is intended to remedy that discrimination to ensure that places like Georgia don’t take a step backwards. Section 5 forbids a state from diminishing the minority community’s ability to elect the candidate of its choice. Once a community like that has built power, you cannot diminish that power. That’s called retrogression and it is illegal by command of the United States.

Now, the majority party has paraded around with the case of Bartlett versus Strickland. Senator from 46 has talked about it. The Republican majority whip in  the House sent to email list last week and talked about on the floor. The Republican lawyers have told you that the Voting Rights Act doesn’t care about any district unless that district is majority minority. You’ve heard that this Bartlett case says you don’t consider multiracial coalitions you don’t consider cross over districts where the black community is not a majority but where it can band together with the white community and still elect the official of their choice. 

Based on this legal theory that was articulated again this morning, the majority party has destroyed multiracial coalitions at every opportunity. As they stand today in this senate, there are 14 districts that are majority minority and there are at least 7 where multi-racial coalitions can and have elected candidates of their choice.

Now, the new map creates one additional majority minority district at the expense of at least 4 districts where multi-racial coalitions have been successful. One of those districts, the 14th, has been eliminated entirely. The congressional map does exactly the same thing. It eliminates three crossover districts in favor of 2 majority minority ones. That’s retrogression. There are fewer districts now, in which communities can elect the candidates of choice.

Now, in targeting and penalizing multiracial coalitions this body has chosen a policy that ‘we want black districts to elect black candidates and white districts to elect white candidates’ and they’ve blamed this on the Voting Rights Act. That is false. We’ve said there are a host of issues to this illegal choice that has been made. You’ve said that the Voting Rights Act requires the creation of majority minority districts. Bartlett versus Strickland, the Supreme Court, says the opposite. “Our holding should not be interpreted to entrench majority-minority districts by statutory command.” You’ve heard that multi-racial districts and crossover districts don’t matter under the Voting Rights Act. Again, the Supreme Court says the opposite as noted in the context of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Various studies have suggested that the most effective way to maximize minority voting strength is to create more influence of crossover districts. The court goes on to say that crossover districts are by definition the result of white voters joining forces with minority voters to elect their preferred candidate.

The Voting Rights Act was passed to foster this cooperation. Today this body is going to vote to say that these districts are irrelevant and the Voting Rights Act provides no protection. That cannot be law and indeed it is not. The Supreme Court in Bartlett gave clear guidance about precisely the campaign that this general assembly has waged against multi-racial coalitions. This the Bartlett case: “if there were a showing that a state intentionally drew district lines in order to destroy otherwise effective crossover districts that would raise serious questions under both the 14th and 15th Amendments.”

That is what you’re doing in the Senate map and it’s what you’re doing in the 12th district of the congressional map. We know it. The Republican whip in the House, who I’m happy to see has walked in has been quoting the legislative history and the report issued when congress amended the Voting Rights Act. Chairman of the Reapportionment Committee quoted that history and that legislative report again. Let me tell you what that report says about multi-racial coalitions in Section 5.  Here’s the house report: “Voting changes that leave a minority groups less able to elect a preferred candidate of choice either directly or when coalesced with other voters cannot be pre-cleared under section 5.”

 Somehow there was a bill of goods that was sold by the Republican lawyers to this body and the taxpayers and the voters who have to pick up the tab. My question is why. Why have we decided to take an extreme view of the Voting Rights Act and twist the law and go to such great lengths to undermine the racial coalitions and the multi-racial coalitions  that we’ve built in this state? Here the answer is the same sad answer as always: partisan politics.

Here’s the elephant in the room: the majority party is destroying districts where  multi-racial coalitions are electing candidates because they do not like the candidates that those voters elect. And that’s because multi-racial coalitions in Georgia elect Democrats.

Let’s look at the data. In Georgia we don’t keep track of how people vote by race, but we do keep track of which party primary people vote in. According to the secretary of state’s web page the 2010 Republican primary was 95.7 percent white. The 2008 Republican presidential primary was 95.7 percent white. The July 2008 Republican Primary was 95.9 percent white. By way of comparison that same July 2008 Primary on the democratic side was 49.4 percent white and 48.2 percent black.

 Now, I’ve heard criticisms that the Voting Rights Act should not be a democratic incumbent protection plan, and I agree. It doesn’t protect democrats but it does protect the power that black voters have acquired from building multi-racial coalitions. That’s what congress said in the statute, it’s what they said in their legislative history, it’s what the Supreme Court has said, even in the Bartlett decision that has been trumpeted by Republicans. The partisan results of that are not the fault of the Voting Rights Act and if you don’t like the partisan results of protecting multi-racial coalitions, the answer is not to destroy the Voting Rights Act, it’s to go and build multi-racial coalitions of your own.

I’ll conclude with this: I’ve heard numerous reports about how this round of redistricting is going to doom the Democrats in Georgia. But the statistics up there, they demonstrate that if nothing changes there’s only one party that’s doomed. Today, the leadership of this state, if we adopt these maps, is going to confirm its policy of undermining multi-racial coalitions. But, you know what? In the end it won’t matter. We live in an international economy and a global community and every business person knows it. The future of this state is a multi-cultural, multi-racial future. It is a future where people of all races will live together, work together, prosper together and will govern this state together. Today, there’s only one party that can claim to be the party of that future. These maps are wrong, they’re going to be struck down, and if you vote for them you’re going to be on the wrong side of history."


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