What is a special session of the Georgia Legislature, and why is it happening?

Rep. Doreen Carter reviews the maps during the 2021 special session. (Credit: Georgia House of Representatives)

Rep. Doreen Carter reviews the maps during the 2021 special session. (Credit: Georgia House of Representatives)

Nov 22, 2023

The Georgia General Assembly will meet next week for a special legislative session to create new electoral maps that will be used during the 2024 election and beyond. The process is called redistricting

State Affairs is here to help you understand and follow along during the eight-day gathering at the Capitol in Atlanta. Here’s a quick look of what redistricting is, why lawmakers are doing it and why you should care.

What is a special session and when is it? It is a time when the Legislature convenes outside of its normal legislative session. It will run from Nov. 29 through Dec. 8.  

What’s the purpose of this session?  Primarily, to redraw Georgia’s electoral maps. Lawmakers are also scheduled to address Gov. Brian Kemp’s call for them to ratify his prior executive orders to suspend fuel taxes, and to consider “enacting, revising, repealing or amending local laws which the General Assembly deems necessary to avoid unreasonable hardship or to avoid undue impairment of public functions.” 

Who called the special session? Gov. Brian Kemp.

Why should I care? How lawmakers draw electoral maps can determine how much — or how little — your vote counts. These are the maps that will be used during the 2024 presidential, state House, state Senate, state judiciary and other statewide and district-level elections.

Why is it being done? Georgia lawmakers have a court-ordered mandate to redo the state’s maps, which the court says currently denies Blacks in some parts of the state the ability to elect candidates of their choice. On Oct. 26, U.S. District Judge Steve Jones threw out the congressional and legislative (this means state House and state Senate) maps drawn two years ago. His decision essentially agrees with civil rights and voting rights groups who sued, arguing the maps were racially discriminatory.

What do Georgia lawmakers have to do? Jones ordered Georgia legislators to draw five more majority-Black districts in the Georgia House and two majority-Black districts in the Georgia Senate in and around metro Atlanta and Macon-Bibb County, and an additional majority-Black congressional district in west-metro Atlanta. The deadline to complete this work is Dec. 8.

Who oversees this session? There are two reapportionment and redistricting committees, one for the state House and one for the state Senate. Each committee has a chairperson. 

How will it work? Georgia legislators have three different maps to fix: Congressional, state House and state Senate. Each chamber will separately come up with ideas to fix its particular map, and then send their proposal to the other chamber to review and approve. They do the same with the congressional map. All plans are sent to the governor for final approval. Gov. Kemp has veto power over all of the maps.

When was the last special session?  In 2021, when lawmakers redrew state legislative and congressional district maps entirely to reflect population changes in the 2020 census, a process done every 10 years after the U.S. census is taken.

How can I get more involved in the process? There are a number of software programs and applications that allow you to try your hand at creating and analyzing political maps. One such app is Dave’s Redistricting, which is free. Try it here.

State Affairs senior investigative journalist Jill Jordan Sieder contributed to this report.

Contact Tammy Joyner on X @lvjoyner or at [email protected]. And subscribe to State Affairs so you do not miss an update.

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