Lynn Teague: And so it begins… redistricting South Carolina

The Op-Ed Page

newest 7.20.21

EDITOR’S NOTE: As I’ve said so many times, there is no one more important thing we could do to reform and reinvigorate our democracy than to end the scourge of partisan gerrymandering. And it’s hard to imagine any task more difficult. So, when I got an email from our friend Lynn Teague telling me the Senate was about to start work on reapportionment, I was assured to know she would be riding herd on the process, and asked her to write us a situationer. I’m deeply grateful that she agreed to do so…

By Lynn Teague
Guest Columnist

The Senate Redistricting Subcommittee will hold its first meeting to begin the process of redrawing South Carolina’s legislative district boundaries on July 20, and the House is planning its first meeting on August 3. The redistricting process, held every ten years to adjust legislative districts to changes in population, is required by the U. S. Constitution. It is among the most important political processes in our system of government, but one that the public often ignores. The impact isn’t immediately obvious without a closeup look, and a closeup look can easily leave citizens confused by technical details and jargon. The nonpartisan League of Women Voters wants to see that change. We intend to do all that we can to demystify and inform the public and encourage participation.

Lynn Teague

Lynn Teague

Why should you care? Gerrymandering is designing district boundaries so that the outcome in the November general election is a foregone conclusion. At present South Carolina is not heavily gerrymandered by party (although there are surely those who would like to change that in the upcoming process). It is, however, very noncompetitive. The map of Senate districts shows how many voters had no real choice at the polls in November 2020. Why is this? Sometimes it is because the population in an area is very homogenous and any reasonable district that is drawn will lean predictably toward one party or the other. However, too often the problem is incumbent protection. This is a game that both parties can and do play, carefully designing districts to make them easy to win the next time around. Because of this obvious temptation, the United States is the only nation that allows those with an obvious vested interest in the outcome to draw district boundaries.

The other major impact of designing very homogenous districts is that it feeds polarization. Representatives are able to remain in office by responding only to the most extreme elements of their own parties, those who participate enthusiastically in primary elections, and ignore the broader electorate. When you call or write your senator or representative and get no meaningful response, this is often the reason. He or she doesn’t have to care what you think. When you wonder why our legislators take positions that are more extreme than those of the South Carolina electorate as a whole, this is why. They are looking out for themselves in the primary election. They don’t need to be concerned about your vote in November.

What can you do? The League of Women Voters hopes that citizens across the state will participate in public hearings, write to their own representatives and senators, and urge representatives not to distort districts to protect incumbents or parties. Both Senate and House will hold public meetings across South Carolina to solicit comment on how redistricting should be done. The dates for these meetings have not been announced.

The League of Women Voters of South Carolina will be hearing from our own group of independent experts in our League advisory group, will present our own maps, will testify in public hearings, and will encourage members of the public to participate. Everyone can follow along as we present information that is needed to understand and participate on our website at www.lwvsc.org. Click on “Redistricting: People Powered Fair Maps for South Carolina.” There you can also subscribe to our blog, VotersRule2020. Follow @lwvsc on Twitter and “League of Women Voters of South Carolina” on Facebook. Our theme is #WeAreWatching. Everyone should watch along with us, and let their legislators know that they shouldn’t make the decision about who wins in November.

Lynn Teague is a retired archaeologist who works hard every day in public service. She is the legislative lobbyist for the South Carolina League of Women Voters.

20 thoughts on “Lynn Teague: And so it begins… redistricting South Carolina

  1. bud

    Partisan Gerrymandering is the fourth most important problem with our election system. Here are the top 3:

    1. Voter suppression. This includes new laws that could give state legislatures the power to overturn the will of the voters.
    2. The electoral college. Gave us W and Trump. How can any reasonable person still defend this travesty.
    3. Dark money. Corporations posing as people can buy elections.
    4. Gerrymandering of congressional districts.

    Reply
    1. Mark Stewart

      Bud,

      It’s 4,1,3,2 in a descending order. With Gerrymandering actually a 6+. If you still don’t understand that, what’s there to say? Gerrymandering is the greasy, shadowy corner where the bets get laid; always in the house’s favor.

      Reply
      1. bud

        Gerrymandering may be more important (in a negative sense) in state elections. The popular vote for the US House came out pretty close in the last two elections to the Dem/GOP breakdown. For 2020, if you discard third party votes the Dems garnered 51.6% of the popular vote, the GOP 48.4%. The Democrats won 222 seats compared to 213 for the Republicans. 51.0% of the House members are Democrats. Pretty close. Brad really likes to get into these esoteric arguments as to why something is a good or bad thing. It leads to considerations unrelated to results. That’s why Brad and others still defend the odious electoral college even though a man clearly unsuited for the job became POTUS BECAUSE of it. Yet these same people state without hesitation that Gerrymandering is really the biggest threat to our “democracy”. But I’m a numbers guy. I don’t care much for these word salad arguments that ignore results.

        Gerrymandering is really difficult given the highly mobile nature of voters. After 10 years the makeup of a district can change significantly. That’s why SC 1 has gone from a safe Republican district to a competitive one.

        Having said all that I still think districts should be drawn by a non partisan commission or better yet by a computer algorithm.

        Reply
  2. Barry

    Always thought it was strange that a district could be drawn that includes coastal communities and communities 120 miles from the coast- areas with completely different concerns.

    recently I was looking at Jim Jordan‘s district in Ohio. it’s incredible how they had to draw that district to make sure that his district is completely safe For him- A congressman that even other Republicans, when off the record, comment that It’s impossible to work with him and that he has never accomplished anything in all his years in Congress

    I also looked up Dan Crenshaw’s district in Texas. Wow. Again, I know it’s not all one sided but the crazy map they had to work up to keep that safely Republican is incredible.

    Reply
    1. Leon

      Check out Maryland and its gerrymandered and oddly configured congressional districts. It is designed to elect Democrats and it works pretty well. 7 of the 8 congressional seats in Maryland are occupied by Democrats. Just goes to show that gerrymandering can go both ways.

      Reply
      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Well, of course it can work both ways — depending on where you are. And if you’re not in SC, it can work “for” Democrats. As Lynn makes clear.

        I put “for” in quotes because this systemic problem is destroying the parties as well as the country, making them more extreme, and in the case of the Trumpist GOP, outright insane.

        But in the parts of the country where Democrats can do it, you see the districts become more and more extreme as well. How on Earth do you think AOC became a member of Congress?

        In some parts of the country, Democrats have been managing to elect rational human beings who can appeal across the sane parts of the political spectrum, like Mikie Sherrill (NJ) and Abigal Spanberger (Va.). But not in AOC’s district, which sort of went off the rails when it elected her, a convenient foil for the right and a thorn in the side of Speaker Pelosi, and definitely not an asset to her party…

        Reply
        1. bud

          Oh come on Brad. Have you actually ever watched Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez? I have and she’s the exact opposite of nuts like Majorie Green. She’s a perfectly sensible, thoughtful, intelligent woman with common sense progressive ideas. Sure those ideas are liberal. And that’s a good thing. We need laws that are good for health care, the environment and equitable distribution of wealth. Her district is not heavily Gerrymandered including neighboring portions of the Bronx and Queens. It is in a liberal area of the country but that’s just New York. AOC is a fine women who does a great job representing her constituents. No amount of ignorant slander will change that. I expect this nonsense from Fox News but Brad, come on, your comments are misguided.

          Reply
            1. Barry

              Don’t socialist countries have businesses that sell things? Maybe I’m confused.

              On a totally unrelated note, when I was a state employee a long time ago here in the capitalist example for the world- South Carolina – our office purchased our supplies from one particular company.

              That company just happened to have some connections to a state GOP politician.

              Good ole capitalism. (The not so “free” market behind the scenes)

              Reply
              1. Bryan Caskey

                “Don’t socialist countries have businesses that sell things?”

                If they do, those businesses operate with individual initiative and react to market forces.

                Your example of the State of South Carolina purchasing office supplies is government spending that is acting without full regard for the free market, which you sort of point out. Your example is an indictment of government corruption, not of capitalism.

                Reply
                1. Barry

                  my example is one of capitalism in practice.

                  South Carolina, where capitalism is proclaimed above all else – and also where the state owns an electric utility.

                  But capitalism…

                  Reply
                2. bud

                  Perhaps Barry’s example is not an indictment of pure capitalism but the list of problems with it are very long. I would suggest that a well regulated system of free enterprise for most industries is the best we can do. A few industries are just not amenable to Adam Smith’s invisible hand. Anyone who has dealt with health insurance companies certainly understands how profit motive alone is completely inadequate for the efficient distribution of medical services. The entire world outside the US understands that. Why can’t we?

                  Reply
        2. bud

          Furthermore, according to the Cook Partisan Voting Index Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez’s district ranks d+25. Meaning it’s voting history is 25 points more Democratic than the average congressional district. That’s liberal for sure but 7 districts in NY had a larger Democratic lean.

          Reply
  3. Brad Warthen Post author

    Y’all, Lynn is hard at work on following this process now, with the first hearing having been held today.

    She has sent us an updated map — it’s the one you see at the top of this post. And here is a new email report she just sent out about today’s activities:

    It’s time to get involved in the 2021 redistricting of South Carolina!

    The first meeting of the South Carolina Senate 2021 Redistricting Subcommittee was held this morning, July 20, 2021, in Room 105 of the Gressette Building. The meeting was live-streamed and can be accessed in the video archive at https://www.scstatehouse.gov/video/archives.php.

    We need to act quickly to get our members and the public engaged. As we expected, the late delivery of census data has led to a compressed schedule for producing new legislative district maps. That means a tight schedule for public comment on a complex process. The Senate will address both South Carolina Senate and U. S. House of Representatives districts.

    Today the staff and senators outlined a comprehensive – but rapid – process for hearing from the state’s citizens. The schedule for the first round of public meetings was not announced this morning because concerns were raised about insufficient time to develop public awareness. However, we were told that the 2011 model is being employed for meetings around the state, so we probably can expect Senate meetings in the next several weeks in Columbia, Orangeburg, Sumter, Rock Hill, Greenville, Florence, Beaufort, Charleston, Georgetown, and Aiken. Please encourage your members to participate!

    Those testifying in person, by zoom, or by written submission in this first round of meetings should be prepared to comment on the criteria that matter most to them, on the communities of interest that they believe are of special importance in their areas, and on any other factors that they believe should be considered by those drawing the lines. A website has been created to assist the public at https://redistricting,scsenate.gov. This website will include meeting plans, contact information, and guidance for those who wish to participate in the process. The League of Women Voters website also provides information that the public may find helpful in constructing testimony at https://my.lwv.org/south-carolina/redistricting-people-powered-fair-maps-south-carolina.

    This will not be the last opportunity for public input. Following these hearings, the Senate Subcommittee intends to hold a meeting to adopt official criteria and to announce plans for further input. They expect to work from raw data that will be made available by the U.S. Census on August 16, so they will move forward then to develop their own draft maps for public review and comment. The data needed to construct maps will be made available to the public through the website, so anyone who wishes to do so can submit maps for consideration by the Subcommittee.

    Above all, we should let our members and the general public know that their participation will be welcome. Too often citizens find the prospect of public testimony daunting. It should not be. Everyone in South Carolina has a lot at stake in this process. The Subcommittee members and staff clearly recognized that in their comments this morning. Although the process is rushed, efforts are being made to encourage and support citizens who wish to become involved.

    Everyone should bear in mind that the House has not yet announced any meetings. If the Senate schedule is very tightly compressed, the House schedule is likely to be even more challenging. Rep. Murphy, Chair of House Judiciary, has told reporters that they plan their first subcommittee meeting on August 3, but this has not yet been listed at http://www.scstatehouse.gov. August 3 is only a week and a half before the census data are available and map drawing begins.

    For those who would like an incentive to become involved, a map showing Senate district outcomes in the 2020 General Election is posted on the LWVSC Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/League-of-Women-Voters-of-South-Carolina-251544131543145. Districts where the November election was decided by margins in excess of 10% were probably never competitive. We surely can do better than this.

    We want a choice when we vote in November. We want legislators who are not chosen by a small number of party loyalists in primary elections, but who are chosen by all of us, to faithfully represent all of us, to reflect our concerns and interests. That can only happen in November. What happens in the next several months will determine whether these hopes are realistic.

    Lynn

    Reply
    1. Ken

      Viewing the 2020 Senate district outcomes, it would be interesting to know why the competitive districts cluster mostly in one part of the state.

      Reply
      1. Lynn Teague

        Part of that is demography. Far upstate counties, for example, are fairly homogenous in population characteristics and in politics. However, part of it is where legislators have put in the most effort to design their districts.

        Reply
  4. Brad Warthen Post author

    The latest from Lynn:

    July 22, 2021

    Making Democracy Work in SC: Redistricting Underway in Both Houses

    Senate

    The Senate website at https://redistricting.scsenate.gov is up and running, and the revised public hearing schedule is posted there at https://redistricting.scsenate.gov/docs/SENATE%20REDISTRICTING%202021%20Public%20Hearing%20Schedule%20MM.pdf. Hearings kick off at 6;30 PM on Tuesday, July 27, Columbia in Room 105 of the Gressette Building. Information will be posted on the Senate website to explain how to sign up to testify in person, by zoom, or in writing.

    These first meetings will occur before release of census data. Those testifying are expected to speak especially on communities of interest that are of concern to them and on the criteria to be used for drawing the districts, but citizens can of course bring up other areas of concern about the process or substance of redistricting. As always, information that may be helpful to those preparing is available at the League website at http://www.lwvsc.org. The theme that we are emphasizing is #WeAreWatching. Above all, legislators should understand that we are paying attention and will hold them accountable.

    Also, a zoom opportunity for those wishing some guidance about the hearing process and how to testify has been arranged by Catherine Fleming Bruce.  It is scheduled for tomorrow July 23, at noon. She asked me, John Ruoff., Brenda Murphy and Shaundra Scott to speak on how to prepare to testify. The registration link is  https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZYtcu6hqz8tHdc9IFN4hINucWh6XtxY0RVN?fbclid=IwAR0zDPocTQZR8DyDVPTYIgC5ADjoTjYgMsmvjDt1JZFyXr1O7CSdZo4lUkY

    Please remember to check back at the Senate site over the next several days for information on how to sign up to testify or submit testimony.

    House

    The House has scheduled the first meeting of their Redistricting Ad Hoc Committee for 10:30 AM on Tuesday, August 3, in Room 110 of the Blatt Building. We believe that it will be organizational, as the first meeting of the Senate Redistricting 2021 Subcommittee was. The committee includes Jay Jordan, Jr., as chair and representatives Bamberg, Bernstein, Colllins, Elliott, Henegan, Brandon Newton and Weston Newton.

    We remain concerned that the House schedule may be even more compressed than that in the Senate or may extend past the time census data are available and map drawing has already begun in earnest.

    The Position of the League of Women Voters of South Carolina on Criteria

    Drawing new district lines at all levels following the decennial census to reflect strict anti-gerrymandering standards. We believe that criteria for the map-drawing process should exclude partisan and incumbent protection and should not be drawn with the intention of reducing competitiveness. District lines should avoid splitting counties and precincts when possible. See our full recommended criteria here.

    Lynn

    Reply

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