Georgia adds 1 million, but growth slows from 1990s, 2000s

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ATLANTA – Georgia gained a million new residents from 2010 to 2020 according to U.S. Census results released Monday, with the state still growing more rapidly than the nation. But for the first time since 1990, the state will not add a congressional seat, as the state’s population growth slowed noticeably from the breakneck pace of the previous two decades.

Georgia’s total population rose above 10.7 million from 9.7 million a decade ago. That 10.6% growth was the 12th fastest in the nation.

Percentage-wise, though, it was the slowest growing decade for Georgia since the 1940s, back when the state only had about 3 million residents, and pales behind the 26.4% increase in population the state saw in the 1990s and the 18.3% growth it saw in the 2000s. It’s the first time since the 1990 Census that Georgia won’t add a congressional seat, holding steady at 14. Before 1990, Georgia had 10 congressional seats for six decades.

Georgia rose from the ninth largest state following the 2010 count to the eighth largest state now. It added the fourth-most number of new residents overall, behind Texas, Florida and California, respectively. Georgia’s growth is part of an overall decades-long shift of population and political power toward the South and West.

The numbers are the opening bell for once-in-a-decade redrawing of district lines for everything from congressional seats down to county commission and city council positions. Because of COVID-19 related delays, the Census Bureau won’t transmit redistricting data until August, with full data promised by Sept. 30 at the latest.

State lawmakers have been told to expect a November special session to draw new maps for Congress, state Senate, and state House. The average size of a U.S. House district in Georgia will rise from 692,000 people after 2010 to 766,000 people now. For a state Senate district, that jump is from about 173,000 people to nearly 192,000, while in the state House, it’s from about 54,000 to nearly 60,000.

For the first time in decades, Georgia will not have to get advance clearance for its district lines from the U.S. Department of Justice, after the Supreme Court overturned that part of the Voting Rights Act in 2013. Democrats in Congress are trying to reimpose preclearance - saying it’s needed to guard against racial discrimination in drawing district lines, but as of now, the only method of challenging redistricting maps is to file a lawsuit after the General Assembly completes reapportionment.

Democrats currently hold six of Georgia’s 14 House seats, the largest number they’ve held since 2010. But Republicans are eyeing suburban Atlanta seats held by Democrats Lucy McBath and Carolyn Bourdeaux. McBath, who holds the majority-white 6th District in Cobb, Fulton and DeKalb counties, has openly voiced concerns in recent weeks that Republicans are targeting her district.

However, with African American migration driving Georgia’s population growth, it’s unclear how much room Republicans will have to carve up Democratic districts without risking other Republican districts. State Rep. Carolyn Hugley, a Columbus Democrat who is her party’s point person for redistricting in the House, even suggested that given recent statewide Democratic victories, the fairest outcome would be both Democrats and Republicans to hold seven congressional districts.

“What we want is a fair map,... a map that recognizes the diversity that is now Georgia,” Hugley said.

Some exurban areas of Atlanta have grown rapidly and individual districts will have to shrink in territory, possibly by enough to draw entirely new state legislative districts in those areas. But some rural areas have lost population and any district will have to add more territory and residents. In areas where multiple districts abut each other that have lost population, lawmakers could entirely wipe out a district to raise the population of neighboring districts.