The clear majority of voters in Athens-Clarke County would like to be represented in the Georgia General Assembly in January by Democrats.
Nearly six in 10 of Athens-Clarke voters cast a ballot for Democrat Mokah Jasmine Johnson in the 117th House District, and two-thirds voted for Democrat Jonathan Wallace in the 119th House District. Both of these Districts are only partially in Athens-Clarke County.
No Republican came forward to challenge incumbent Democrat Spencer Frye in the 118th House District–the only state legislative district wholly inside Clarke County–so Frye got 100 percent of the recorded vote.
Athens-Clarke County voters strongly preferred Democrat Zachary Perry in Senate District 46, giving him two-thirds of their votes, and Democrat Dawn Johnson in Senate District 47, giving her more than two-thirds of the vote. The two Senate Districts split Clarke County.
Despite the preferences of Athens-Clarke County voters for Democrats, after last Tuesday’s elections, they will be represented by Republicans Houston Gaines in the 117th House District, Marcus Wiedower in the 119th House District, and Bill Cowsert in the 46th Senate District.
This is because the preferences of Republican voters in Oconee and other counties outweighed those of Democratic voters in Clarke County.
More than seven in 10 of Oconee County voters, for example, preferred incumbents Gaines in the 117th House District, Wiedower in the 119th House District, and Cowsert in Senate District 46.
Oconee County is not part of the 47th Senate District, but voters outside Clarke County voted–against the wishes of Clarke County voters--to re-elect incumbent Republican Frank Ginn to represent that District as well.
The Georgia General Assembly, controlled by Republicans, created the existing legislative districts in 2011 that dilute the influence of Athens-Clarke County and increase the influence of Oconee County and other counties surrounding Clarke.
The outcomes of the elections on Tuesday nearly guarantee that will not change when the General Assembly, again controlled by Republicans, takes up the task of redistricting following the release of data from the 2020 Census.
In an interview with WUGA’s Athens News Matters Hosts in early October, Gaines and Wiedower expressed some receptivity to turning redistricting over to a nonpartisan body.
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“I’d rather there be some sort of, maybe, some computer” do the work to remove “human nature” from the process,” Gaines said. “So we’ll continue to look at proposals, certainly open to them,” he added.
“If there is a push and acceptance for a third party, I’m fine with that,” Wiedower said. “I want to stay, quite frankly, as far away from that subject as I can.”
Mokah Johnson and Wallace were strongly in favor of turning redistricting over to an independent body, but they won’t be involved in the process.
Democrats had hoped to pick up enough seats, including the 117th and 119th, to control the House, and they came up far short, picking up only two House seats across the state.
In that WUGA interview, neither Gaines nor Wiedower acknowledged how important the current configuration is to them and to continued control by Republicans of the General Assembly.
Going into the election last Tuesday, local Democrats were hoping to cut into the Republican margins in Oconee County, and Republicans were hoping to expand them.
For the most part, Republicans held their own.
The power of Oconee County Republicans is particularly in evidence in House Districts 117 and 119.
Gaines got 72.2 percent of the vote in Oconee County, 75.3 percent of the vote in Jackson County, and 73.4 percent of the vote in Barrow County. That offset his loss in Clarke County, where he only got 41.6 percent of the vote.
In the end, 31.9 percent of Gaines’ votes came from Oconee, and only 38.7 percent of his vote came from Clarke County.
Oconee County’s influence is increased by its high turnout rate. Oconee’s turnout rate was 81.8 percent in that race, while Clarke’s was 70.3 percent.
The situation is much the same in the 119th. Wiedower got 71.7 percent of the vote in Oconee County and only 32.5 percent in Clarke County.
Wiedower’s vote came overwhelmingly from Oconee (74.6 percent) versus Clarke (25.4 percent).
Turnout mattered as well. Oconee County had a registration percentage of 52.1, but its vote percentage was 57.1.
It is pretty safe to say that Gaines and Wiedower are Oconee County representatives, even though Gaines actually lives in Clarke County. (Both Wiedower and Wallace are from Oconee.)
Certainly Gaines and Wiedower know that they represent Clarke County as well, but they also know that they would not be representing that county if Clarke County voters alone could decide, while they certainly would be Oconee County’s choices.
District 117 and 119 are products of redistricting by the Republican-controlled General Assembly in 2011.
Prior to that redistricting, Clarke County had two districts entirely within its boundaries, House District 114 and House District 115.
House District 115 was represented by Doug McKillip. McKillip had been elected as a Democrat but switched parties.
To create a Republican district for McKillip, the 115th became the 117th by adding in three precincts from Oconee County (Bogart, Marswood Hall, and East Oconee), as well as parts of Barrow and Jackson counties.
The old 113, which had included all of Oconee County and parts of Morgan, Oglethorpe and Clarke counties, was reconfigured into the 119th. That District included the remaining 10 precincts of Oconee County and a roughly equal part of Clarke County based on population.
The 114th became Frye’s 118th House District.
Clarke County also was split into two Senate Districts prior to redistricting in 2011, and the votes on Tuesday show why.
Cowsert got only 32.6 percent of Clarke County’s vote, while he got 71.5 percent of Oconee’s County’s vote and 76.9 percent of Walton County’s vote.
In the end, 31.6 percent of Cowsert’s vote came from Oconee County. Only 17.4 percent came from Clarke.
And as with the two House Districts, the high turnout rate in Oconee County added to its influence.
Oconee County had a registration percentage of 22.2, but its vote percentage was 26.9.
In the 47th Senate District, Ginn got only 31.3 percent of the vote in Clarke County, but he won overwhelmingly because he got 72.8 percent in Barrow, 79.6 percent in Jackson, and 76.7 percent in Madison.
In the end, only 10.4 percent of Ginn’s vote came from Clarke County.
Neither Cowsert nor Ginn is preferred in Clarke County, and their voters–to whom they are indebted--are elsewhere.
District Attorney Race
Tuesday’s ballot contained yet another indication of Oconee County’s power and Clarke County’s weakness.
James Chafin chose to run without a party label in the special election to fill the position of District Attorney.
Deborah Gonzalez and Brian Patterson ran as Democrats.
Chafin got only 22.6 percent of the votes in Clarke County, but he got 60.3 percent of the vote in Oconee County. It seems many Republicans could not bring themselves to vote for a Democrat.
Chafin’s vote, in the end, was 65.3 percent from Oconee County.
Oconee County makes up only 28.1 percent of the registered voter in the two-county Western Judicial District, but it had 32.9 percent of the votes cast.
Chafin has forced Gonzalez into a runoff, which would not have been the case if Clarke County alone had been voting.
U.S. House Of Representatives
The different roles of Clarke and Oconee counties can also be seen in the 10th Congressional District race on Tuesday.
Incumbent Republican Jody Hice ended up with 62.4 percent of the vote, but the 25 counties that contribute wholly or in part to the district voted distictively.
Oconee County gave Hice 71.1 percent of his vote, while Clarke County gave him only 32.0.
Tabitha Johnson Green from Washington County in the far south of the District had little presence here, yet she got 68.0 percent of the vote in Clarke County compared with 28.9 percent in Oconee.
Clarke is once again split into two districts.
Andrew Clyde won the 9th Congressional District with 79.2 percent of the vote, but, even though he is a local businessman, he got only 27.6 percent of the Clarke County vote.
The General Assembly also will be redrawing Congressional Districts, but it is unlikely Oconee County will find itself in the minority in any new district or that Clarke will find itself in the majority.