COLUMBIA, S.C. — The South Carolina House of Representatives has released their proposed plans for redrawing House district lines, and many community members are unhappy.
Redistricting happens once every 10 years in both the House and Senate, and affects who South Carolinians vote for in local elections. It's the process of redrawing district lines to account for changes in population.
On Wednesday, many community members raised concerns that House Representatives are drawing lines to protect their seats at the State House, rather than keeping communities together.
At a public hearing with the House Redistricting Committee, accusations of gerrymandering were frequent. In other words, many were worried that representatives are designing districts that will get them re-elected in the next election, instead of designing districts to have equal representation.
Nancy Watson traveled up to the meeting from Bamberg County. She told the panel of lawmakers, "Bamberg County has basically nothing in common with Orangeburg County, and I question the intentions of whoever proposed this gerrymandering of a district that has served us well.”
Watson, along with others that came up from Bamberg, disapproved of how their district was redrawn in the proposed plan, which would group them with a part of Orangeburg County. They think the change was made to benefit Representative Justin Bamberg's campaign.
"Those proposed changes only seem to benefit you personally," one resident said while speaking directly to Rep. Bamberg. "It doesn’t seem to benefit us, the hard-working tax payers of Seat 90.”
But Bamberg explained that the proposed change is due to a loss of population in that area. “There are population gaps. Different districts need population, we happen to live in a part of the state where that is reality, unfortunately,” he said.
Also attending the hearing was a representative for the Young Democrats of South Carolina, Matt Green. He asked why lawmakers decided to split many counties into different districts across the state.
“I believe there are excessive county splits in the map," said Green. "Specifically, some counties could be kept fuller or whole.”
Green added that when cities and counties are split, it can cause minority groups to be under-represented.
The drafted House plan has Orangeburg County split into 4 separate districts that bleed into surrounding counties.
Lynn Teague with the League of Women Voters had major concerns with the plan, too.
She told News19 that the current House districts, which were designed in 2010, are well balanced. However this proposal is, "looking like it’s a very, very biased map.”
Teague said it cuts down on the number of current competitive House district elections. “Competitive districts are how voters manage to make a choice. If you don’t have a choice in November, you’ve basically been deprived of your vote,” explained Teague.
It’s important for districts to be drawn fairly, Teague said, otherwise voters may feel they have no real options on their ballots.
However, Chair of the Committee, Representative Jay Jordan, reminded the concerned constituents that the map is open to changes and defended the committee's proposal:
"We believe the working plan has adhered to the fundamental goal of making sure South Carolina legislative districts provide for equal voting rights, traditionally referred to as the one person, one vote principle,” said Jordan.
House Representatives are hoping to get their new district maps adopted in December, since their election is coming up in November 2022. The committee is accepting written testimony from the public until Monday, November 15 at noon. To submit your comments and concerns, email firstname.lastname@example.org
The group plans to bring their proposed maps to the full Judiciary Committee for discussion next week.