The 2010 census showed Richmond County's population barely changed in 10 years, but that doesn't mean its voting districts will stay the same.
Places that lagged behind the state's 18.3 percent growth rate -- Richmond County grew only 0.4 percent -- also fell behind in the population needed for a state Senate or House seat. That means areas, including Richmond County's urban center, could lose some representation.
"Those places that have not grown as fast will have to add geographic area to their districts," said state Rep. Roger Lane, the chairman of the House Legislative and Congressional Reapportionment committee, which will oversee redrawing of districts in Georgia.
Augusta's urban voting districts in particular have lost population, and expanding them into outlying suburbs could affect their racial makeup.
Census figures show Georgia's population was 9,687,653 in 2010. That means a state Senate district should now contain, on average, about 173,000 people and a House district about 54,000.
Richmond County's voting districts are all below those averages. In the urban core, three House districts, 119, 121 and 122, and Senate District 22 lagged by as much as 14 percent to 25 percent. Those House districts are on Augusta's north and east sides and are represented by Barbara Sims, Wayne Howard and Earnest Smith. The Senate district, covering the urban part of the county, is represented by Hardie Davis.
The General Assembly will meet in a special session this summer to approve new voting districts, Lane said. Before that, public hearings will be held on proposed redistricting.
The goal for redistricting, starting out, is to have each district contain about the same population, Lane said. Population can vary as much as 5 percent if there's a justifiable reason.
However, legislators must avoid losing a black voting district when they redraw lines, to comply with the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965, Lane said. That can be difficult in Georgia's majority-black inner cities, where population has declined and where surrounding suburbs are white.
"If you go outside the city now and grab a section of the suburbs, you're not necessarily going to grab a minority population," Lane said.
In the suburbs of Columbia County, House districts have 13 percent and 19 percent more population than an average seat should have. Demographically they are white, by three to one. By contrast, four out of five of Richmond County's House districts are majority black.
Charles Bullock, a political science professor at the University of Georgia, said redistricting could try to follow any black population that's moved into the suburbs.
"If the population simply isn't there, you can't create people, though," he said.
Theoretically, three black districts could be consolidated into two black districts or a majority-black district could become a majority-white district, Bullock said, but he's never seen that happen in Georgia.