Specifically was to take a map of the State of...

"WHAT I DID

July 10, 1995|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

"WHAT I DID specifically was to take a map of the State of Georgia shaded by minority concentration and overlay the districts that were drawn by the State of Georgia and see how well those lines adequately reflected black voting strength."

So said a Department of Justice attorney explaining how it was decided the state's new 11th Congressional District was okay with it.

I thought what they did was take an overlay of Sherman's march to the sea. The 11th District runs from Atlanta to Savannah then up to Augusta, precisely where Sherman's soldiers once "got a little careless with matches."

Sherman was a Republican, as was the attorney general of the United States at the time this 11th District was forced on Georgia. Democrats in the state say the latter did more harm than the former.

They mean that a congressional delegation which was 9-1 Democratic before the post-1990 Census redistricting became 3-8 Republican after it -- and because of it. They say "because of it" because so many of the black voters in the state were "packed" into the 11th and two other districts. This made the other eight much whiter than before.

One district went from 68 percent white to 80 percent. Another went from 65 to 84. Another from 75 to 89. Another from 64 to 79. And so on. Those extra white votes meant the difference in whether a Democrat or Republican was elected. The only Democrats left are from the new majority black districts.

The most interesting change was in the Sixth District of Georgia. It went from 80 percent white to 94 percent white. That change was just enough to give the incumbent Republican, who had won by fewer than 1,000 votes in 1988 and 1990, a solid 40,000 victory in 1992 and an even bigger landslide in 1994 -- and the speakership of the House of Representatives.

Some studies conclude that without the result of packing Democratic blacks into districts in the Southern states covered by the Voting Rights Act's requirement that districting changes be "pre-cleared" by the Justice Department, Richard Gephardt, not Newt Gingrich, would be speaker today. (And Rep. Kweisi Mfume would be chairman of the General Oversight and Investigations Committee of the Banking and Financial Service Committee.)

Some Democrats want to shift blacks back out of the new "max-black" Southern districts. But the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund argues that rather than "cannibalizing" majority black districts to reduce the percentage of Republicans in adjacent districts, Democratic governors and legislatures should shift "surplus" white Democrats from other districts.

Sounds good in theory, but in fact, fewer and fewer whites in the Southern states where the Democratic losses are most pronounced in congressional elections are still Democrats. One pollster says fully 80 percent of white Southern males now vote Republican.

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