COLUMBIA, SC (AP) – South Carolina lawmakers heard public testimony Wednesday on a proposal to redesign the state’s United States House districts that cuts back on sweeping changes suggested in a previous map.
South Carolina house freed the new proposal for the state’s seven districts last week.
The 2020 US Census saw more than 500,000 people added to the state. But that growth was uneven, as people flocked to coastal areas and rural areas saw their populations plummet, so lawmakers must now rearrange district boundaries.
The map suggested by the House does not significantly redraw the boundaries of the state’s existing districts and looks like a proposal put forward by a Senate committee last month. Early analyzes show that the state would likely continue to elect six Republicans and a Democrat to the United States House with those districts.
But the map is a marked departure from the House’s original proposal, released earlier this month. This first map extended Republican Representative Joe Wilson’s 2nd Interior District in the east to encompass coastal Beaufort County and shifted the boundaries of several other districts. These changes would ultimately make Coastal 1 District more competitive between Democrats and Republicans.
House redistribution committee chair Jay Jordan said on Wednesday that the two suggested house plans were still under consideration. Jordan said committee staff drew the second map after people who commented on the first map expressed concern that Beaufort County had been separated from other coastal communities.
Democrats have opposed both the Senate card and its similar House counterpart that would more likely place Republican voters in the 1st District – the only one in South Carolina where a Democrat has overturned a Republican seat since 1986 .
“There is no ambiguity around the clear objective of this map: to prevent a Democrat from winning Congress seats outside of the 6th district,” said Joe Cunningham, the Democrat who overturned the seat of the 1st district in 2018 before losing to Republican Nancy. Masse in 2020, in written testimony before the House committee.
The 6th District is currently represented by the only Democrat in the delegation, U.S. Representative Jim Clyburn, and is the state’s only majority minority district. As part of the Maison’s new proposal, it is exchanging certain areas with the 1st arrondissement.
The change would divide parts of Charleston County and the city of Charleston, said Lynn Teague of the League of Women Voters of South Carolina. The ultimate effect would be to put more white residents in the areas surrounding Charleston to “dominate” the 1st district, she said.
Teague said House’s new proposal also divides black communities in other parts of the state, including Richland County. It also makes more sense to draw a map to keep the cities of North Charleston and Charleston together above Beaufort and Charleston, Teague said, noting that the former two share more economic and social interests than the latter two.
“We think this is an obvious racial and partisan gerrymander and should be rejected,” Teague said of the new card.
The committee did not vote on any of the cards on Wednesday. Jordan said the committee plans to send a proposal to the entire House within the next two weeks.
“We have been criticized both for taking too long and also for going too fast,” Jordan said. “But I remind everyone once again that this is a monumental task and that we have been diligent and careful to get it right.”
The Senate has yet to approve its Congress card. Lawmakers from both chambers have yet to come together to determine what the districts will look like, and those boundaries must also withstand legal challenges.
Two civil rights groups have already sued the state, claiming lawmakers are taking too long to approve the cards of the House of the United States. The groups want a court to set a deadline of February 15 for the House of the United States cards to be completed.