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S.C. lawmakers prepare for ‘dry, dusty, arcane’ but ‘incredibly important’ redistricting process

Published: Jul. 20, 2021 at 11:36 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS/AP) - A process that can shift political power in South Carolina kicked off Tuesday at the Statehouse.

A group of state senators met to talk about how they will go about redrawing district lines in the state and what they decide can change who voters will be able to select not only in the State House and Senate but also in the United States Congress.

Sen. Luke Rankin, R-Horry, led the first meeting Tuesday of the Senate’s redistricting subcommittee.

“This is dry, arcane, and dusty, 10 years old,” he said. “Folks, this is not on their radar but it is incredibly important to them.”

The way the lines are drawn can split communities, impact federal funding coming into an area and make it harder or easier for politicians to stay in power.

Every 10 years, new federal census numbers show which parts of the state are growing and which parts are shrinking. Once those new numbers are released in August, Lawmakers then start to redraw maps so that they keep roughly the same number of people in every district based on shifting populations.

The process, however, can be more complicated than it may sound, because the people who redraw the maps and vote on them are the same ones who stand to lose or gain their seats of power because of them.

“Politics is what we are here about and it’s not a process devoid of politics. We got to get votes,” Rankin says. “It’s a buy-in...there are winners and losers.”

“Once the numbers come in and people start playing with maps then it will get serious,” Sen. Dick Harpootlian, D-Richland, 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”

To explain the importance of the process, Harpootlian used U.S. Congressional districts as an example, citing that of Sixth District Congressman Jim Clyburn.

“Look at Jim Clyburn’s district it goes from the Atlantic ocean to lake Murray and the only thing those people have in common is the pigmentation of their skin,” he said.

Clyburn’s district includes portions of Charleston, Orangeburg and Richland Counties.

The Second Congressional District also contains parts of Richland County, while the First District also includes portions of Charleston County. Rep. Nancy Mace serves the First District.

While senators admit looking at maps can feel dull, they say they don’t want voters to feel voiceless in the process.

“We need to be representative of all people, all communities of interests taking into consideration growth in this state,” Rankin said.

But ultimately, the lawmakers will make the decisions.

“There are people who have been here decades who won’t give up their district or an advantage,” Harpootlian said. “That’s how they got here and kept staying here for decades. It’s going to be a fight.”

Voters themselves will get a voice in the process. Starting next week, there will be 10 public meetings through Aug. 16 when the census data comes out.

Rankin says he wants the process to be transparent, so they want to hear from voters about their community and changes they would like to see.

The first public meeting is scheduled for July 27 at the Statehouse in Columbia. It can be attended in person or virtually.

Rankin says he hopes the process will take less than four months.

The districts are drawn every 10 years after the federal government completes it nationwide count.

The House will have its own subcommittee that meets starting next month.

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