Rorschach test: The new congressional districts

Until this morning, I had not had a chance to look at the congressional districts as passed by the Legislature on Tuesday. All that hoo-hah over the new 7th District distracted the coverage from what I, and others who live in the Midlands, wanted to know: What do the 2nd and the 6th look like?

But The Post and Courier has obliged me, and I urge you to go there to see the graphic full-sized.

This was brought to my attention this morning by a friend who presented it as a political Rorschach test: Look at the images, and then state which of them you think is the more gerrymandered, the old or the new?

Not to prejudice your opinion, but to me it’s fairly obvious that the new is less gerrymandered. Certainly the 2nd — no more of that reaching-down-to-Beaufort nonsense. And the new 7th is nicely blocky — no spider legs there.

Of course, the 6th still looks ridiculous coming into Richland only to cut the heart out of it, leaving the rest to Joe Wilson.

And of course, there’s the beef for Democrats — the 6th has WAY more Black Voting Age Population than Jim Clyburn wants or needs. It is the dumping ground for black voters, so that the Republicans don’t have to deal with them in the other six districts.

But don’t look for Dick Harpootlian’s threatened lawsuit to materialize. Or if it does, don’t look for a court to give it the time of day. The Legislature passed this; there was no impasse. The Dems just lost the argument. Their interest in it is clearly partisan.

It is of course inherently racist to gather up as many black voters and stuff them into one district. But Republicans will point to Tim Scott and go their merry way.

27 thoughts on “Rorschach test: The new congressional districts

  1. bud

    It would be nice to return to the days when all of Richland and Lexington Counties were in the same district. The population may be too large to do that now but to the extent possible that would be the most logically connected collection of people. As it stands the folks in downtown Columbia are paired with people in suburban Charleston and parts of rural Orangeburg county. Other than race what do those people have in common? Seems like that sixth district is a tad more gerrymandered than before. Still at first glance this seems to be slightly better than before.

  2. Steven Davis

    I don’t understand why they can’t just draw them along county lines. I realize that Clyburn won’t maximize every black vote this way, but maybe he’ll need to actually try to appease his non-black constituents.

  3. bud

    I got curious and did the math. The average congressional district should have about 660,000 people in South Carolina. The population of Richland, Lexington and Calhoun is about 664,000. That would be a perfect size and a good geographical match. And it would also be fairly competitive. It would bring in the somewhat more progressive folks in downtown Columbia to counter the highly conservative Lexington County and the suburbs of Richland.

  4. bud

    Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester also come in at about 662k. Seems like this is pretty simple. Why all the spiderweb districts? (That’s a rhetorical question of course).

  5. Ralph Hightower

    Gee! I didn’t realize the old looked like that, with the 6th District having a small bubble inside the 2nd District; it sort of looks like Columbia’s “shoestring annexation” of Harbison.

    1st & 6th look even more ridiculous in the new. It actually looks like gerrymandering.

  6. Lynn T

    The way that 6 now pushes into Charleston County in the northeast and the blobs of 1 along the coast really stretch credibility. But then, pretty much everything about SC politics stretches credibility.

  7. Brad

    Steven, just so you know, you have it backwards.

    The lines aren’t drawn that way for Jim Clyburn’s benefit. They allegedly were originally (that is, they were drawn for a hypothetical black candidate to have a chance, under the now-discredited theory that a black candidate couldn’t get elected otherwise). But now they’re drawn that way for the sake of the Republicans who drew them — so that they won’t have enough black voters to have to pay attention to THEM.

    That’s what it’s all about. BVAP. And the goal for the GOP is always to squeeze as many black voters as possible into the minimum number of districts. In this case, one district out of seven.

    Because even though it’s been proved now that a black man can get elected in a majority-white district, white Republicans remain convinced that the fewer such voters they have in their districts, the better.

  8. Steven Davis

    Regardless, Clyburn has a lock on his job as long as he wants it, which is a shame for all of SC. The lines are drawn so a white candidate has an almost impossible challenge ahead of him if he wants to run in that district.

    I guess when the Democrats gain control they’ll redraw them to benefit their party. I still think district lines need to be drawn along county lines. If one district has 10,000 more voters than the one next to it, so be it.

  9. `Kathryn Fenner

    The Justice Department will hae the final say, but it seems a shame that in a state that is 40+% black and 40+% Democrat, we have one representative thereof.

  10. Greg Jones

    ‘Splain it to me Lucy: They gave Clyburn Hampton County? Too many black voters? We’ve been in the second since the dawn of time, I think. And they won’t let Clyburn have any of the islands? This is ridiculous.

  11. Michael Rodgers

    Federal law (supreme court cases interpreting the constitution) requires that, when the congressional districts in a state are drawn, the districts must have exactly equal population, down to the last person. That means that not only must some counties be split, but also some precincts must be split!

    Somehow (I am not a lawyer), federal law has a similar but less stringent requirement for state legislative districts, and that requirement is within 10% (i.e. plus or minus 5%). Interestingly, our state constitution requires that state legislative districts must not cross county lines (my interpretation), but federal law trumps.

  12. bud

    Actually Kathryn we have 2 black representatives but Mr. Scott happens to be a staunch conservative having voting with the other 4 Republicans to kill the Boehner plan last night. It’s time to invoke the 14th ammendment and fight this out in the courts. Like all these ammendments the wording is less than clear but it seems to me the POTUS has an affirmative obligation to at least give it a shot.

  13. Karen McLeod

    @Steven–wouldn’t it be nice if a democrat had a chance in some other district as well. It would also be nice if black folk in other districts had enough of a voice so that their “representative” had to show some signs of actually representing them.

  14. Michael Rodgers

    @Kathryn, We have two black congressmen. For a better way of voting, start with Cindi Ross Scoppe’s column.

  15. Steven Davis

    @Michael – I realize that, but does it make any sense the way lines are drawn today? What’s with the little Columbia bubble in Clyburn’s district attached by a one foot wide connector string?

    If not drawn along county lines at least draw them along natural boundaries and roadways.

  16. Mark Stewart

    Bud and Michael almost get to the real issue underlying the districting plans, past and present. After considering race, the legislature’s next priority has always been to bifurcate the urban centers.

    It’s the tyrrany of the small town. As long as we keep toeing the line to some 18th century agrarian model of society we’ll just have a harder and harder time addressing the future needs of out state.

  17. bud

    I find it rather fascinating that no one seems to be all that interested in the astounding debate over the debt ceiling. This is the greatest bit of political theater that I can ever remember. Perhaps I’m the oddball and the Aug 2 deadline isn’t firm and that our bills will get paid. Maybe everyone understands the way the sausage gets made and at the 11th hour a deal will be brokered. Whatever the reason I feel someone alone among my blogging bretheren that Rotary Club jokes and district maps are more prevalent that the potential for economic armageddon.

    Having said all that I remain optimistic that this will work out in the end but the possibility that it won’t and the economy could collapse has me scratching my head at the rather minimal attention Brad and the others are paying. Just call me Oliver Douglas.

  18. lafollette

    There’s debate as to whether the point is to create a district where a black candidate can be elected or to create a district where the minority community (in South Carolina, African Americans) has sufficient voting power to select the candidate of their choice. If its the second scenario, and it should be, the election of Tim Scott is irrelevant for this purpose. He ran against and easily defeated a black candidate who was supported by most black voters in the 1st.

  19. Steve Gordy

    At least now the greater part of Aiken County isn’t represented by someone from the Upstate.

  20. `Kathryn Fenner

    We have one Democratic representative, even though the state is 40+% Democratic. I agree with the alternative methods of voting, etc. What we have now is further hegemony of the Republican controlled state legislature…..

  21. Brad

    Yeah, I was going to tell Steven he was write about the natural boundaries and communities thing, but Michael beat me to it.

    The thing is, the Republicans will never do it.

    Here’s the thing: If you’d let Cindi Scoppe do the lines — or me; either one — you’d get seven representatives who would bear little resemblance either to the five Republicans OR Jim Clyburn.

    I can’t guarantee they would “look like South Carolina,” in the superficial sense of skin color, although I don’t see why they couldn’t. That would be up to the candidates who choose to run and the jobs they do appealing to the voters.

    But I can give you the good news that they would ACT, and THINK more like most of South Carolina, rather than like the political extremes of South Carolina.

    It would be in their political interests to appeal more to black AND white, left AND right, and best of all, the middle as well.

    And that would benefit us all.

  22. Brad

    Here’s a guesstimation of what the Scoppe/Warthen delegation would look like:

    You’d likely get two conservative Republicans, one moderate Republican, two moderate Democrats (drawn logically, you probably couldn’t come up with an actual LIBERAL Democrat out of SC), and two who could be of either party.

    That’s another way of saying three more or less safe Republican districts, maybe two fairly safe Democratic ones, and two that I would prefer to live in, which could not be easily characterized. Those two would likely produce the best representatives, because no serious candidate in those districts could take any voter for granted. But all of them would likely be better than what we have.

  23. Michael Rodgers


    You’re totally right that natural boundaries should be used and that compactness should be a goal. Florida recently amended its constitution to require such things. Unfortunately, our process in South Carolina is completely political, where they focus on party, race, and incumbency protection (aka constituent consistency).

    Supposedly the legislature should consider “communities of interest” and to some extent they do. I think the legislature tried to limit the splitting of counties. Here’s the pdf description of the process from the SC Senate. And here’s Cindi Ross Scoppe again, talking about all this stuff. Making all the numbers work out exactly equal is very difficult. There are 181,908 census blocks in our state. The census blocks have whatever population they have. By the time the people who draw the maps (assign each of the 181,908 census blocks to whichever of the 7 districts), achieve all their other goals and exactly equal population, they don’t want to go back and try to make the districts more compact or more in line with natural boundaries.

    All that said, I think that you’re right that the boundary of the 2nd and 6th could be tweaked here and there, to make the districts more compact and more in line with natural boundaries, while splitting as few or fewer counties as are split in the current plan. Not that I would know, but as far as I do know, nobody’s interested in making any adjustments based on compactness and natural boundaries. And that’s a shame.

  24. Michael Rodgers

    Honestly, there’s no reason for any lines for the US House. We don’t have any lines for the US Senate. When Jim Demint runs, I get one vote. When Lindsey Graham runs, I get one vote. There are two senators from SC, and I get two votes.

    There are seven US House seats in SC. I should get seven votes. We all should. Such things happen all the time. For example, in Richland School District 2, I have as many votes as there are open seats.

    If we did this, what our congressional delgation would be like politically would be roughly 3 D and 4 R, which is 43% D and 57% R. Contrast this with the current plan by the Republicans in our state legislature to have 1 D and 6 R, which is 14% D and 86% R.

    Finally, and quite importantly, primaries in districts leads to the extremism in elected officials. You won’t get nearly as many elected extremists, on either side, if politicians have to run statewide.

  25. Steven Davis

    I’m still waiting to hear how you’d control the way these representatives would act. Why would your lines deter the same people from entering the race?

    You don’t think Clyburn is a liberal Democrat? He’s the black male version of Nancy Pelosi.

  26. bud

    Why don’t we let some independent, non-political group of professionals draw the lines based on common metropolitan interests? There would be no consideration of race or electibility just common community interest.

  27. Nick Nielsen

    So District 2 loses Beaufort and Hilton Head, but picks up all of Aiken county? That might be a bad thing for Joe’s chances of re-election.

    One can only hopes…

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