The 2020 election taking place Tuesday has put a spotlight on several issues, mostly notably the national COVID-19 response as well as other health care-related topics, such as health insurance and coverage for pre-existing conditions.
But, while those issues have dominated the national conversation in the presidential election as well as key races such as Georgia two U.S. Senate seats, there has been another issue which has more quietly been looming in the background because of the 2020 Census: Redistricting.
It may not have gotten as much attention as health care-related issues, but redistricting could arguably make the races for seats in the Georgia General Assembly some of the most important races on the ballot on Tuesday.
Why is it so important? Well, quite simply, the people elected to the legislature on Tuesday will sit down in 2021 and set the legislative, congressional, county commission and school board district maps used across Georgia for the next decade.
“It’s tremendous,” Fair Fight founder, and former candidate for governor, Stacey Abrams said of the stakes for redistricting in this year’s legislative races. “It’s the question of what the next decade looks like in Georgia.”
Redistricting is a once a decade happening that can have major influence on which party is in power for the next decade. It can even have some national implications since the Georgia General Assembly — including the 25 members of it who represent parts of Gwinnett County — will draw the congressional boundaries.
There are only seven seats in Gwinnett’s legislative delegation that are not being contested on Tuesday. Within the remaining 18 that are being contested, there are two open state Senate races in District 45 and 48 that are being contested.
Currently, Republicans hold control of both chambers in the legislature, as well as the governor’s mansion. Democrats need to pick up 16 seats in the Georgia House of Representatives to cain control of the chamber and they need to pick up seven seats in the Georgia Senate to gain control of it.
“The control of the state house is at stake, and Gwinnett is part of our path to getting there,” Abrams said. “I will say that while it may not have a lot of national attention, there is a very intense battle happening at the state legislative race level.”
Georgia Gwinnett College political science professor Matthew Gunning said winning the seats needed for Democrats to take control of either chamber is a tall, and potentially impossible, task for Democrats to pull off.
“They have a shot at it (in the House) but it would really require a significant surge for Democrats in the northern arc of suburbs, which includes Gwinnett and North Fulton and Cobb,” he said.
Gunning said his models forecast Democrats picking up between 10 and 12 seats in the Georgia House and about four seats in the Senate.
Of the two open Senate races in Gwinnett, District 45 is currently held by Sen. Renee Unterman, a Republican, and District 48 is currently held by Sen. Zahra Karinshak, a Democrat.
Unterman’s district represents northern Gwinnett, around Buford. Karinshak’s district represents more of the middle western part of Gwinnett, around Duluth. Both women opted to mount unsuccessful bids for the 7th Congressional District rather than seek re-election to the Senate this year.
Officials from the Democratic Party of Georgia said they is looking to build on gains it has made in recent years in Gwinnett County and elsewhere in the northern suburbs of metro Atlanta.
“There’s still more opportunity for Democrats to succeed in Gwinnett and we aren’t taking our past success in 2016 or 2018 for granted,” the party said in a statement to the Daily Post. “This year, Georgia isn’t just a battleground for the Presidential and US Senate races — it is also a battleground for the state house. In 2018, Georgia Democrats flipped 11 state house seats and are now fighting to flip the remaining 16 needed to win a majority.”
And, there’s a reason Democrats feel an urgency to flip the state House of Representatives.
Gunning said Democrats need to win control of at least one chamber of the General Assembly to have any real say in how district boundaries are drawn next year. Without that seat at the table, Republicans could draw new lines that could be aimed at setting back their counterparts in the Democratic Party, he said.
“Georgia’s House map advantages Republicans, but it’s not an extreme gerrymander,” Gunning said. “But, if let’s say the Democratic candidate, Carolyn Bourdeaux, were to win the 7th District, I could imagine very easily that Republicans would merge the 6th and the 7th Districts and put Lucy McBath against Bourdeaux and create one clearly Democratic district, and then use the more Republican-leaning areas of the 6th and 7th districts to shift those areas to a more Republican district.”
Abrams said Democrats in Georgia have made strategic moves to try and win control of the Georgia House of Representatives.
“On our side, our Legislative Victory Fund is heavily investing a great deal of money into these races,” she said. “We are spending heavily to support incredible candidates across the state.
“We have a number of candidates who will be a part of continued evolution of the state house because Democrats, when we win these 16 seats, will have a seat at the table for the drawing of these lines in a way that we did not in 2011.”
Abrams sees Gwinnett has having a key role in deciding how Georgia goes in some key races, including the presidential race and the two U.S. Senate races. Democrats made significant gains two years ago by flipping several seats representing the county in the General Assembly.
Democrats took control of the county’s legislative delegation in the process, leaving just nine Republicans in the delegation between the House and Senate. And that came two years after Hillary Clinton narrowly won the county in the 2016 presidential election. Abrams won the county in the 2018 gubernatorial election by a wider margin than Clinton.
And, that’s why Abrams sees Gwinnett playing a key role in Democrats efforts to gain a seat at the redistricting table.
“We know that Gwinnett was one of the bellwether counties in 2016 when both Gwinnett and Cobb flipped to blue (in the presidential race) and I think it was a portent of the direction of the state,” she said. “We know that, in 2018, the 7th District race was the closest in the country between Carolyn Bourdeaux and Rob Woodall and we know we far exceeded participation and turnout by winning Gwinnett by 14 points.
“So, what I believe is that Gwinnett is going to be one of the central stories of what happens in 2020.”