New House redistricting maps too partisan, South Carolina League of Women voters says

State - Regional

South Carolina Rep. Jerry Govan, D-Orangeburg, looks over a map during a House redistricting committee public hearing on Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021, in Columbia, S.C. Govan was put into a district with another incumbent in the proposed House map. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina House and Senate committees could soon send their proposed redistricting maps to their whole chambers.

The House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to meet Tuesday to discuss the maps of the 124 House districts released late on Nov. 8. If the committee passes the maps, they will be sent to the House floor.

Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Luke Rankin said Friday he expects his committee to send the maps for the 46 Senate districts to the floor by the end of November.

Both chambers would probably meet in a special session in December to approve the state House and Senate maps and likely U.S. House maps that have not been publicly released yet. Legislative leaders hope that would give enough time to reconcile any legal challenges in time for March candidate filings for the June primaries for the 2022 elections.

The maps are based on 2020 U.S. Census data, which saw South Carolina grow by 10.7% to more than 5.1 million people. But that growth was lopsided, with many more of the 500,000 new people moving to areas along the coast, the South Carolina suburbs of Charlotte, North Carolina, or around Greenville. Twenty-four of the state’s 46 counties — almost all rural — lost population.

Of the two chambers, the House plan has had the most complaints. The maps appear to be more focused on protecting incumbents and assuring Republicans maintain their current balance of power than keeping like-minded communities intact and not diluting minority voting power, according to the South Carolina League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan organization that encourages informing voters.

“We believe that the House map is heavily focused on incumbent protection, accompanied by partisan protection,” said Lynn Teague, vice president of the League’s South Carolina chapter.

Teague joined several other speakers and activist groups at a public hearing Wednesday asking for the House to reconsider its plan. But the House Judiciary Committee appears ready to vote this week just over a week after the maps are published.

The plan pairs incumbents in five districts — three sets of Democrats and two sets of Republicans.

An analysis of the proposed House districts by the Princeton University’s Gerrymandering Project determined they would likely see 83 Republicans elected — two more than the GOP’s current advantage among the 124 seats.

The League of Women Voters said the proposed Senate map for its next elections in 2024 are a significant improvement over the current districts.

The group said senators did a good job keeping counties and cities together as much as possible, with a few complaints.

Union County, whose 27,000 people rank 35th out of 46th counties and is about one-fourth the size of a typical Senate district, is spilt into three districts in the new maps, likely to protect incumbents, the League said.

Senate President Harvey Peeler along with fellow Republican Sens. Shane Martin and Danny Verdin would all represent Union County under the new maps and none of them live there.

The Senate plan only pairs up one set of incumbents — the Senate’s longest serving member Nikki Setzler and fellow Democrat Dick Harpootlian

The Princeton University’s Gerrymandering Project’s analysis of the proposed Senate districts found Republicans would likely win 30 seats, the same number they currently hold in the 46-seat chamber.

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