(The Center Square) – Critics believe South Carolina’s redistricting procedure allows lawmakers to choose their own electorate, and repeated polls have indicated most Palmetto State voters want politics extracted from the decennial process.
“Politics is what we are here about, and it’s not a process devoid of politics. We got to get votes. It’s a buy-in. There are winners and losers,” Sen. Luke Rankin, R-Horry, told the Senate Judiciary Committee’s 23-member Redistricting Subcommittee during its first meeting.
The Senate subcommittee’s first business Tuesday was to schedule 10 public hearings across the state through Aug. 12, beginning next week, to collect input on reconfiguring South Carolina’s seven Congressional and 26 state Senate districts.
Rep. Jay Jordan, R-Florence, will chair the eight-member House redistricting committee that will develop a plan for 124 state House districts. Its first meeting is Aug. 3 in Columbia.
The Senate and House hope to propose new tentative districts by October.
According to preliminary data released by the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 5.12 million people are living in South Carolina, about 11% more than a decade ago but not enough to add an eighth U.S. House seat
Gov. Henry McMaster joined 14 other Republican governors in June in urging the bureau to expedite the release of final census data, which was scheduled for September. The bureau has pushed the data release to Aug. 16.
That’s when the process gets “serious,” said Sen. Dick Harpootlian, D-Richland.
“Once the numbers come in and people start playing with maps, then it will get serious,” he said. “Some folks may be redistricted out of existence. If your district lost a huge amount of population, it may get collapsed. On the other hand, if your district gained a whole bunch of population and you have to lose certain areas, it can make you more vulnerable in the primary.”
Preliminary estimates outline Senate districts ranging from 105,707 to 116,833 people, redistricting counsel Charlie Terreni said.
The state’s current legislative district alignment is “dry, arcane and dusty, 10 years old,” Rankin said, and he encouraged members to inform constituents what is at stake.
“Folks – this is not on their radar – but it is incredibly important to them,” he said. "Without a doubt, you’ve got some high-growth areas, some areas that are not growth areas, how do we, in fairness, within the construct of these principles, how do we draw those districts? That’s our challenge.”
Critics said South Carolina’s district apportionment system allows the state Legislature to choose its own electorate instead of an electorate choosing its representatives.
In a 2018 Winthrop Poll, two-thirds of South Carolinians said lawmakers should not draw their own district boundaries and, instead, an independent body should do so.
Four in 5 poll respondents said districts should reflect an area’s “natural community” regardless which political party residents tend to vote for.
House Bill 4229, the proposed South Carolina Fairness, Accountability, and Integrity in Redistricting (FAIR) Act, was introduced by eight Democratic co-sponsors during the 2021 session.
The bill and its Senate companion, Senate Bill 750, called for creating an independent board to orchestrate redistricting, but neither was heard before committees.
All Senate redistricting public hearings will be held from 6:30 p.m.-8:30 p.m.:
• July 27: Columbia, Gressette Building on State House grounds;
• July 28: Sumter, Central Carolina Technical College;
• July 29: Rock Hill, York Technical College;
• Aug. 2: Greenville, Greenville County Council Chambers;
• Aug. 3: Florence, Florence-Darlington Technical College;
• Aug. 4: Beaufort, Technical College of the LowCountry;
• Aug. 9: Orangeburg, Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College;
• Aug. 10: Charleston, Trident Technical College;
• Aug. 11: Conway, Horry-Georgetown Technical College;
• Aug. 12: Aiken, Aiken Technical College.