Originally created 03/16/05

Senate halts map vote after mistake is found



ATLANTA - Senate Repub-licans pulled a new congressional redistricting map from the upper chamber moments before a debate was scheduled to begin because of human error, the chairman of the chamber's map-drawing panel said late Tuesday.

The original plan, which was approved by the House last week, now seems likely to pass the Senate as well.

Senate Reapportionment and Redistricting Chairman Chip Rogers, R-Woodstock, said that at some point in the redistricting process, new information was entered into a computer used by the legislative office that oversees the state's voter lines.

That data, later found to be incorrect, would have increased the number of voters in one precinct in a metro Atlanta district from 5,000 voters to 50,000.

That caused a substantial drop in the percentage of black voters in the Atlanta-area district - something that cast doubt on the required approval of the plan by the U.S. Department of Jus-tice.

Under civil rights legislation, all Georgia redistricting plans must be approved by the federal government.

The discovery of the error appears to clear the way for the committee to vote again to approve the original map and send it back to the Senate.

The redistricting panel was expected to meet today.

"The plan would be to have it on the calendar next week," Mr. Rogers said.

Earlier, Mr. Rogers and Senate Majority Leader Bill Stephens said updated information from the 2004 elections would require recasting the plan's metro Atlanta districts, something that could have had ripple effects throughout the state.

In redistricting, changes to even a few districts can cause a ripple effect that can spread throughout districts in other areas of Georgia as lawmakers try to ensure an equal number of people in each district.

"If you change one district, by definition you have to change the others," Mr. Stephens said.

Senate Minority Leader Robert Brown, D-Macon, said he still believed any redrawing of voting districts wasn't needed right now.

"Throughout this process, I've argued that we're too far away from the previous census and too close to the next census for this to make sense," Mr. Brown said.

The U.S. Constitution requires only that redistricting be done every 10 years, after the census, to reflect shifts in population.

But in recent years, voting lines have been changed by parties who seized control of their statehouses after a lack of influence for many years.

Reach Brandon Larrabee at (404) 681-1701 or brandon.larrabee@morris.com.

What's Next:

The Senate map-drawing panel is expected to meet today. The committee is likely to approve the original map again and send it back to the Senate.