Redistricting-South Carolina

People look over the current South Carolina Senate districts at a public meeting by a Senate subcommittee on redistricting on Wednesday, July 28, 2021, in Sumter, S.C.

(The Center Square)  The South Carolina House Redistricting Ad Hoc Committee begins its 10-meeting round of public hearings across the state this week to discuss how to reapportion the General Assembly’s 124 state House districts for the next decade.

The eight-member panel – five Republicans, three Democrats – convenes its first public hearings Wednesday in Myrtle Beach and Thursday in Florence. Its 10th and final hearing is set for Oct. 4 at the Statehouse in Columbia.

House Ethics Committee chair Jay Jordan, R-Florence, leads the eight-member House reapportionment panel, which includes House Judiciary Committee Chair Chris Murphy, R-North Charleston.

The South Carolina Senate Judiciary Committee’s 23-member Redistricting Subcommittee wrapped up its slate of 10 public hearings on post-census reappointment of the General Assembly’s 46 state Senate districts nearly a month ago.

The Senate has not publicly posted the subcommittee’s proposed revisions to the state’s senate districts, but is expected to do so by October.

Preliminary estimates outline Senate districts ranging from 105,707 in population to 116,833.

Both chambers will convene in a fall special session to approve proposed adjustments to the 170 state legislative districts drafted by the two panels, and to collaborate on reapportioning South Carolina’s seven U.S. House districts.

Legislative district lines drawn by South Carolina lawmakers during the special session will be in place for 2022’s elections in November. They must be approved by Gov. Henry McMaster. A two-third vote of each chamber is required to override a veto.

The General Assembly has allocated $9 million for the redistricting effort, two-thirds from federal stimulus funds and $3 million from state general revenues. That’s $7 million more than what the state spent in 2011 when lawmakers created a seventh congressional district.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2020 Apportionment Results released in August, there are nearly 5.12 million people living in South Carolina, a 10.7% increase since 2010; the nation’s 10th-highest decennial population growth.

Nevertheless, it was not enough of an increase for the Palmetto State to add an eighth U.S. House seat.

South Carolina’s congressional districts will be less populous than those in most other states.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s breakdown, South Carolina congressional districts each will represent 732,102 residents. The national district average is 761,169, according to the bureau.

Much of South Carolina’s growth since 2010 occurred in and around coastal cities and suburban Charlotte, North Carolina, according to the census.

While urban and suburban areas grew, populations in rural areas declined; 24 of 46 South Carolina counties have fewer residents now than they did in 2010.

How to allocate those voters across the state’s seven congressional and 170 state legislative districts is the focus of the chamber committees, as Sen. Dick Harpootlian, D-Richland, explained in a July senate redistricting session, noting much is at stake.

“Some folks may be redistricted out of existence,” he said. “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.”

South Carolina lawmakers adopted redistricting guidelines in 2011 that recommend all districts be contiguous and "attempt to preserve communities of interest and cores of incumbents' existing districts."

The 2011 guidelines recommended districts "adhere to county, municipal and voting precinct boundary lines,” but gives lawmakers vast discretion in a state where Republicans hold a trifecta of control in the Legislature and governor’s office.