New Morgan County districts

Morgan County’s five voting districts underwent changes after population shifts were calculated by the 2020 U.S. Census.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp approved redistricting maps for all of Georgia’s voting districts, signing the redrawn maps into law on Thursday, Dec. 30.

The reworked districts apply to the U.S. House of Representatives, the Georgia State Senate and the Georgia State House. Morgan County remains in Georgia’s 10th Congressional District and in Georgia 25th State Senate District, both of which have open seats to be filled in the November 2022 elections.

For local races, Morgan County’s redrawn map will result in some residents changing voting districts, as well as County District 1 strengthened as a “minority-majority district.”

Both the Morgan County Board of Commissioners and the Board of Education unanimously passed a proposed map redrawing lines for all five of Morgan’s voting districts in early November, sending the new map to the state legislature for approval, then signed into law by Gov. Kemp last week.

The new map, created in partnership with state officials, upholds District 1 as a minority-majority district, a controversial practice in general, but a decision that received unanimous support among all county commissioners and board of education members, both Republican and Democrat.

Redistricting is required by law every 10 years after the census is completed to ensure voting districts are as evenly split as possible by population to ensure fair representation. A minority-majority district is an electoral district in which the majority of the constituents are comprised of racial or ethnic minorities.

“This was a unanimous decision,” said County Manager Adam Mestres after the Morgan County Board of Commissioners voted on Tuesday, Nov. 2, to recommend approval of the redistricted map drawn up by state officials. “There are two independent bodies in Morgan County both agreeing to this. It’s not county government dictating the districts.”

“This is required by the state. It is not initiated by us,” said County Commissioner Ben Riden.

The school board also voted unanimously to recommend approval for the redistricted map on Monday, Nov. 8.

“The process was very smooth and congenial,” said Dr. Virgil Cole, superintendent of Morgan County Schools. “We appreciate the help of the State Reapportionment Office for drafting a map that garnered the support of our entire board.”

Both the county commissioners and board of education members believe keeping District 1 as a minority-majority district is the best way to ensure diverse representation in a county that is about 75 percent white. According to the 2020 Census Bureau data, Morgan County’s population is 75.2 percent white, 21.8 percent black, 3.2 percent Hispanic, and 1.6 percent identifying as two or more ethnicities/races.

County Commissioner Donald Harris, a Democrat, actually played a pivotal role in establishing District 1 as a minority-majority district back in the 1970s when he served on the Morgan County Branch of the NAACP.

“The way the districts were before, it was impossible to have any minority representation,” said Harris, who was elected to the county commission in 2008 during a special election. Today, Harris still supports having a minority-majority district due to lopsided demographics in the county.

“It’s not always a good thing to have, but I’m happy with it and thankful for it in Morgan County because it’s pretty much the only way for minorities to have representation here,” explained Harris.

Following the approval, District 1 is now comprised of a 53 percent minority population and a 39 percent white population.

Minority-majority districts have been heavily debated in recent years. Proponents argue that they are a necessary tool to ensure minority representation in areas where the racial and ethnic demographics are heavily skewed in favor of majority white populations. However, opponents point out that minority-majority districts have been exploited and used as a tool to disempower minority voters by cramming racial and ethnic minorities into a single district in areas where the racial divide is more evenly split.

“That’s not the case here,” said Mestres. “This is to ensure the possibility of a diverse county commissioner board in Morgan.”

The newly approved map was designed around the new population numbers calculated in the 2020 Census, in which Morgan County’s population increased roughly by 12 percent in the last decade. In 2010, Morgan County’s total population was 17,868 people. In 2020, Morgan County’s population was calculated at 20,097 people. The task of redistricting came down to splitting the population as evenly as possible between the county’s five voting districts.

“The magic number was 4,019. We tried to get each district as close to 4,019 in population as we could,” explained Mestres.

None of the districts reach the ideal number, but they do come close.

District 1 now has 4,003 in population. District 2 has 3,980 in population. District 3 has 4,052 in population. District 4 has 4,012 in population. District 5 has 4,050.

While District 1 actually gains 11 in population, the district size shrinks geographically. District 4 will undergo the largest shift in population, losing 64 in population under the newly drawn map. District 3 picks up 92 in population while District 2 picks up an additional 15 in population.

Some Morgan County voters will now face a change in voting precincts. According to Jennifer Doran, Morgan County’s elections director, all voters subject to precinct changes will be notified.

“In the coming months, there will be changes in precincts because of the line shifts,” said Doran in November. “We will be doing legal notice before the changes take effect.”

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