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S.C. proposed congressional map draws fire in public comments

Published: Nov. 29, 2021 at 10:12 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Members of the Senate Redistricting Subcommittee heard comment Monday on South Carolina’s proposed congressional map, with every member of the public speaking at the meeting unsparing in their criticism of the proposal.

“If gerrymandering was an art, this proposed map would be a Picasso,” said former 1st District Congressman and current Democratic gubernatorial candidate Joe Cunningham.

The proposed new map would leave South Carolina with no competitive seats, according to analysis from the nonpartisan Princeton Gerrymandering Project, which said this proposal would solidify the current breakdown of six Republicans and one Democrat representing South Carolinians on Capitol Hill for years to come.

“We ask you to consider options that are less damaging to voter rights and to reasonable political dialogue,” Lynn Teague of the League of Women Voters of South Carolina said, adding, “If this plan were enacted, many South Carolinians would find for the next 10 years that their vote was wasted.”

States must redraw the lines of their congressional districts every 10 years as part of the redistricting process, using new data from the U.S. Census.

Most of the state’s seven congressional districts would largely stay the same under the proposal, drawn up by Senate staff.

But major shifts of voters in the Charleston area, which has experienced one of the state’s biggest population growths in the last decade, drew the bulk of criticism from speakers Monday. The area is currently split between the 1st and 6th Congressional Districts.

In that region, South Carolina’s only currently competitive seat — the 1st Congressional District, now held by Republican Nancy Mace — would become more favorable to Republicans, taking in more of Berkeley County in the Hanahan and Daniel Island areas. The district would also add part of Jasper County, near Hilton Head.

In just the last three elections, the seat has changed hands from Republican control under former Rep. Mark Sanford, to Democratic control under Cunningham, back to Republican hands with Mace.

“For decades, legislators have bent over backwards to eliminate competitive Congressional districts and create safe districts, where it’s impossible to lose the general election,” Cunningham said Monday. “And what’s been the result? You have a Congress that cannot function.”

Meanwhile, the 6th Congressional District, represented since 1993 by Democrat Jim Clyburn, would add voters in the Johns Island and West Ashley parts of Charleston under the proposal, along with some precincts in Sumter County.

Senate Cartographer Will Roberts said the plan would also make whole precincts in Richland County that are currently split between Clyburn’s district and Republican Joe Wilson’s 2nd Congressional District.

Speakers argued the new map would pack Black voters into the state’s only seat held by a Democrat, Clyburn’s, which would still stretch from Columbia to Charleston as it currently does.

“I’m certainly not accusing the staff of anything untoward. It just may be that the result they came up with is racially skewed, and I think we need to be very conscious about the fact, about the issue of packing African-Americans into one district,” said state Sen. Dick Harpootlian, D-Richland.

Senate staff said their proposal is a “minimal-change plan” that would ensure the population in each district is roughly equal, as required under the U.S. Constitution.

“Our goal was to bring the Congressional districts back into deviation compliance while maintaining the core constituencies of the districts, and with this plan, we have accomplished that,” Roberts said.

The full Senate will reconvene in Columbia next Monday afternoon to take up redistricting.

Before then, the Senate Redistricting Subcommittee and Senate Judiciary Committee will need to approve a new map in some form, which could happen later this week or as late as Monday.

Meanwhile, the state House of Representatives will return this Wednesday to vote on its new map.

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