LWV in the Lobby

With 100 years of advocacy under our belts, members representing almost every local league in SC gathered at the State House on February 12 to ask our legislators for redistricting reform. 

Our morning began with a training session on the State House grounds, where Rep. Gary Clary (a sponsor of our preferred redistricting bill) presented us with a resolution recognizing our Centennial. He also spoke candidly about the difficulties presented by a legislature that is increasingly divided, both from a personal perspective and a policy perspective. He is retiring at the end of this session; his presence will be missed.

From left to right: LWVSC VP of Issues and Action, Lynn Teague; Co-Chair, LWVSC Redistricting Workgroup, Shayna Howell; Representative Gary Clary

We then made our way into a packed lobby; advocates for issues from animal rights legislation to education reform were jostling and vying for a few minutes with their legislators. A line waited to reach staff members in charge of sending “Please come out to the lobby” notes from constituents to their legislators. It was chaotic but also informative and a bit exhilarating. Lobbyists making hundreds of dollars an hour were there alongside advocates who were setting foot inside the lobby for the first time, and legislators were coming out of their chambers to meet with both.

In an unfortunate turn, the House adjourned early, shortly after LWV members made it into the lobby. This was disappointing because the bill we want (H. 3054) is in the House Judiciary Committee. LWVSC VP Lynn Teague, who helped organize the day, had warned us that their schedules were fickle. With a shortened session (January-May) and a three-day work-week, there are a multitude of commitments they must pack in, and the nature of those commitments can change on short notice.

League members, ever resourceful and tenacious, quickly pivoted. They tracked down their representatives, left notes in their offices, and hustled to the opposite end of the lobby to meet with their Senators. To their credit, many were successful. 

League members wait outside of the Senate Chamber to meet with their Senators.

After a little over an hour, almost half of the group migrated to a nearby lunch spot to discuss redistricting reform strategy, offer feedback for future Lobby Days, and enjoy the company of League members they don’t often get to see. It was a great way to end our Centennial Day of Action.

The path to redistricting reform in 2020, which was always an uphill climb, has gotten steeper. Time is very short. House Judiciary Committee Chair Peter McCoy has called few meetings of this crucial committee and its subcommittees this year, and our preferred bill has never received a subcommittee hearing. We do not expect that to change in the final weeks before the “crossover” date of April 10, when all bills must have passed their house of origin in order to survive.

However, our goal remains the same. Whoever draws the district lines in 2021 – legislators themselves or an independent redistricting commission – should have a transparent process that accommodates meaningful public input and does not use partisan or incumbent protection as criteria. The incredible work put forth by local leagues this year to educate their communities on the need for this outcome has meant that this issue has gotten much-deserved attention – if not in the legislature, among the citizens. The result is that an extensive group of people understand the negative impact of gerrymandering and are willing to hold 2021 map-drawers accountable for drawing fair maps that serve the voters, not elected officials, and we must remain vigilant.

Shayna Howell

Co-Chair, LWVSC Redistricting Workgroup

The Ongoing War Over Who Counts

The one thing we know for sure about the upcoming decennial census is that there will not be a question about the respondent’s citizenship status in 2020. We also know that the Census Bureau had predicted that including the question would have suppressed responses from Latinx residents. Advocates for the question have denied that that was the point of the question, but have argued that information gained would have been worth that cost. Opponents have argued that the question was indeed intended to suppress Latinx responses, thus weakening the voting power of residents of more heavily Latinx districts and favoring whiter, more conservative districts.

But there is strong evidence from documents uncovered last May and June of another motivation for the citizenship question: to change the nature of the populations used to draw Congressional district lines. Currently, Congressional districts are drawn so that district populations are nearly equal, where the population counted is “the whole number of persons in each State” (from the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which superseded original language that counted slaves as 3/5 of a person). In the 2016 case from Texas, Evenwel v. Abbott, plaintiffs argued that using total population violated the Equal Protection Clause by reducing the voting power of voters in districts with low immigrant populations, compared to voters in districts with higher immigrant populations. The Supreme Court held that states may use total population to draw districts, but did not rule out other options.

The argument made in documents belonging to recently deceased Republican “gerrymandering guru” Thomas Hofeller for the citizenship question is that it would lay the groundwork for a national change to using citizens of voting age as the population for drawing districts, instead of counting everyone. Hofeller argued that such a change would benefit “Republicans and non-Hispanic whites.” He also proposed as a cover story that the question would provide data to aid enforcement of the Voting Rights Act, the excuse provided by the government that was rejected by the Supreme Court in June.

Now comes Alabama and Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL), suing the Commerce Department and the Census Bureau last year to block counting of undocumented immigrants for apportionment of Congressional representatives to the states, as well as for allocating federal funds. Alabama is projected to lose a seat when representatives are apportioned after the 2020 census. The plaintiffs argue that the wording “persons in each State” was not intended to refer to undocumented immigrants, that the phrase was “understood at both the Founding and in the Reconstruction era to be restricted to aliens who have been lawfully admitted to the body politic,” and thus a “proper” interpretation of the laws governing the census and apportionment would mean counting only “the total of legally present resident population of the United States.” A number of experts have offered contrary understandings of history and judicial precedent.

The district judge hearing the case has expressed concerns that the federal government may not wholeheartedly defend the suit, so has allowed Hispanic and civil rights groups to join the defense, along with 16 other states that stand to lose representatives under the Alabama plan, nine cities and counties, and the U.S. Conference of Mayors. He also denied the government’s motion to dismiss the suit, however. A hearing is scheduled for September 6.

More details here.