Citizens across the political spectrum agree that reforming our redistricting process is essential if we are to minimize the polarization that is damaging our democracy and let voters know that their votes matter. There are differences about how to get there, but the goal is clear – a government in which voters are empowered.
In the past, our legislators have relied on a state constitutional provision that authorizes them to redraw legislative districts, and they have created policies in each house of the General Assembly to govern how this is done. The League of Women Voters of South Carolina strongly supports H. 3054, a bill to reform this process and put the emphasis back on the interests of voters. H. 3054 has been filed by a bipartisan group of South Carolina House members: Gary Clary, Jason Elliott, William Cogswell, Mandy Powers Norrell, Chris Wooten, Ivory Thigpen, Seth Rose and Beth Bernstein. This bill would do two important things: establish a South Carolina Redistricting Commission to draw district lines and define the criteria that would be used to draw those lines.
The members of the Commission would be selected as follows:
(1) two members must be appointed by the Governor, no more than one of whom are members of the appointing Governor’s political party;
(2) two members must be selected by the Senate, one upon the recommendation of the members of the majority political party in the Senate and one upon the recommendation of the members of the largest minority political party in the Senate;
(3) two members must be selected by the House of Representatives, one upon the recommendation of the members of the majority political party in the House of Representatives and one upon the recommendation of the members of the largest minority political party in the House of Representatives;
(4) the members of the South Carolina Redistricting Commission appointed pursuant to items (1) through (3) shall at their first meeting by majority vote elect a seventh member who shall serve as chair. If the members are unable to elect a chair, after ten ballots, or in any case if no chair has been elected within ten days after the organizational meeting, the Governor shall appoint the chair.
What would this Commission actually do? “The commission shall establish its own policies and procedures as necessary . . . and the commission shall adopt such district boundaries as are approved by a simple majority of the members of the commission.” It would then be required to hold at least four public meetings across South Carolina to review their draft maps, before developing a final version to be submitted to the General Assembly for a vote.
This process does not take the General Assembly out of the process of redistricting. Why? First, we have a very pragmatic concern. We frankly hope that this approach will find legislative support because legislators will understand that if they have legitimate concerns, they will have an opportunity to address them. However, our choice of this approach is not based only on a legislative strategy.
The League of Women Voters has national experience with a wide range of methods of redistricting. We have listened to colleagues in other states who tell us that every system will involve some level of legislative influence, whether explicit or behind the scenes. We have agreed with those colleagues that acknowledging this allows us to require a very high level of transparency from those legislators regarding any influence they have on a final outcome. H. 3054 provides significant public input into the Commission maps and any changes made by legislators would have to be made and justified very publicly. This contrasts markedly with previous redistricting processes in which legislators did as they pleased and as one legislative staffer told us, “no one was really paying attention.”
We are also aware of studies showing that independent commissions by themselves do not necessarily produce outcomes that are better than maps drawn by legislators. To actually make a difference, clear voter-first criteria must be defined and enforced. We will discuss these in our next blog post.
Stay tuned, as we try to make South Carolina’s 2020 redistricting process one that serves the interests of our state’s voters!