A state legislative panel charged with drawing the boundaries of South Carolina’s Congressional and Senate districts for the next decade will take public testimony on maps submitted by outside groups.
A Senate redistricting subcommittee will meet Thursday to discuss legislative maps submitted by a number of South Carolina organizations, most of which are associated with the Democratic Party.
The maps, which the Senate redistricting panel has uploaded to its website, include submissions by the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund, the League of Women Voters of South Carolina and officials from Democratic parties in Greenville, York, Newberry and Aiken counties.
Thursday’s hearing follows a series of statewide public listening sessions where residents weighed in on redistricting, the once-a-decade process by which state lawmakers use Census Bureau data to redraw the lines of South Carolina’s 124 House, 46 Senate and seven U.S. Congressional districts based on population.
Ensuring each district is drawn to include a roughly equivalent number of people is of primary importance. Beyond that, lawmakers use a series of guiding principles to construct districts while attempting to keep precincts, cities, counties and communities of interest together, if possible.
There are no perfectly drawn districts, demographers say, but there are ways of constructing boundaries to maximize fairness and empower voters. There also are ways of designing districts to advantage partisans or incumbents, known as gerrymandering.
House and Senate leaders initially hoped to return to Columbia this month to approve maps ahead of next year’s elections. But Senate President Harvey Peeler, R-Cherokee, canceled the special legislative session late last month because the redistricting panel needed more time.
Lawmakers are now aiming to return by December to approve new district lines.
Rep. Chris Murphy, R-Dorchester, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, and House Majority Leader Gary Simrill, R-York, both said they expected to adopt new district lines before the end of the year.
Senate Minority Leader Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, said he thought December was possible, but that January seemed more likely.
Civil rights groups last week filed a federal lawsuit challenging what they called the South Carolina’s Legislature’s “unnecessary delay” in drawing redistricting maps, arguing it created “prolonged uncertainty” for voters and candidates ahead of the March 2022 candidate filing deadline.
“Every day without new maps is a day in which interested organizations, such as the South Carolina NAACP and its volunteers, as well as candidates, cannot contact and educate the electorate in their districts,” said Brenda Murphy, president of the South Carolina State Conference of the NAACP, a plaintiff in the suit.
Republican state lawmakers deny they are to blame for any perceived delay. The process is somewhat behind schedule, they said, because the final version of U.S. Census data wasn’t released until mid-September.