Local Lockout in Georgia: Why Underrepresentation in County-Level Governments Persists

  • Description

All politics is local, but local institutions often evade national scrutiny. City and county governments make policy decisions that impact daily life and animate political identity: how to run just and effective police forces, how to maintain roads and deploy emergency services, and how to operate public schools that educate and enrich future generations. They have also become cultural flash points in social movements for racial equity and LGBTQ+ rights. Local elections offer critical opportunities for communities to address the issues that most directly affect them, participate in the political process, and cultivate political talent for higher office.

Since 2010, rapidly growing communities of color have reshaped Georgia's demographic and political makeup, yet the state's county governing structures have been slow to reflect that change. Many factors contribute to these disparities, among them the electoral practices shaped by the Republican-dominated state legislature that create structural barriers to elected office. Compounding this problem are the legislature's unprecedented efforts to intervene in local redistricting precisely where communities of color are tipping political scales.

This report draws on 2023 state voter file data to analyze the racial and gender identity of current members of Georgia's 159 county commissions and their respective school boards. People of color are dramatically underrepresented among Georgia's county government officials. They constitute nearly 50 percent of the state's population, yet as of February 2023, only 27 percent of county commission seats and 29 percent of county school board seats statewide were held by people of color. The average Georgia county has about half as many people of color on its county commission and school board as would be predicted given its population and school enrollment composition, respectively. Underrepresentation is more pronounced in these local offices than in state or federal ones.