Meet the Members of our Redistricting Advisory Committee!

For several years, the League of Women Voters of South Carolina has advocated for the SC Legislature to form an Independent Redistricting Commission (IRC), which would have taken the responsibility for drawing new district lines in 2020 out of legislators’ hands. It is fair to say that no matter what party is in charge, asking incumbents to choose their own voters can lead to incumbent or partisan gerrymandering. Sometimes incumbent protection is even built into the redistricting process by making “constituent consistency” one of the redistricting criteria.

Bills that would have created an IRC were never legitimately considered in the statehouse though, so the SC Legislature will convene a special session this fall after the census data comes out (in legacy format in August and then in a more user-friendly format in September) to once again draw their own district lines. To their credit, Senate and House leaders continue to assure the public that there will be opportunities for public hearings and testimony so that voters and community organizations can give input on district lines.

In preparation for drawing district maps that the League of Women Voters of SC will submit to the SC Legislature for consideration, we have formed a Redistricting Advisory Committee (RAC) to help inform our work. (What would have been good for the goose is good for the gander, we think!) These members represent different areas of the state, different political backgrounds, and have different areas of expertise, and we are pleased that they have agreed to give us their input on fair maps for SC voters.

Meet the Committee!

We look forward to working with this great group of community leaders this summer and fall; follow this blog to get updates on our efforts!

If you know someone who would be a good addition to our Redistricting Advisory Committee, you can still nominate them. The LWVSC would especially welcome nominations from rural areas of SC and the coastal counties, but all nominees are welcome. Email shaynahowell@gmail.com with a note about your nominee.

We need your input: What is YOUR community of interest?

When drawing new districts, map drawers are tasked with considering many criteria. Some are fairly clear; for example, districts should be contiguous. Some are legally mandated; districts should comply with the Voting Rights Act. Some seem easy to envision but harder to define when you start analyzing. For instance, we say districts should be compact, but there are many different measurements (we’re guessing you don’t want to read a blog post about Polsby-Popper or Reock measurements) so sometimes it comes down to “we’ll know it when we see it.”

There’s another criteria that can be hard to define but that map drawers are asked to consider: communities of interest. These may include economic factors (for instance a local industry that employees much of the community), geographic factors (coastal communities often share similar needs and interests), city boundaries, historic influences, and social and cultural identities. The League of Women Voters of South Carolina (LWVSC) also defines what we think communities of interest should not include: relationships with political parties, incumbents, or political candidates or a community’s voting history (these can just lead straight to partisan gerrymandering.)

You can see how it would be hard for map drawers to understand what these communities actually are from afar – and that’s where you come in.

As the LWVSC begins drawing maps later this year to submit to the legislature as part of our People Powered Fair Maps campaign, we want to use your input to keep communities of interest together when we draw districts. We’re using Representable.org to collect your input. Here’s how it works:

We’d love for you to draw your community of interest using Representable.org and submit it to us at ppfmcommunities@gmail.com. We’ve found it can be helpful to know what size community you should be thinking about; you may want to think of it in terms of an area not larger than a SC House District (you can look your current district map up here, which is an enlightening activity in and of itself!)

The districts that the legislature draws this year will impact the voters within them for years to come. The LWVSC wants to do all we can to advocate for fair maps – thanks for your help in getting there.

Take Action: Ask Congress to Pass the For the People Act (H.R. 1)

To the voters and advocates who are disappointed with the lack of action on redistricting reform at the SC Statehouse – may we ask you to temporarily direct your attention to Congress?

For the second session in a row, a bill has been introduced in Congress that would modernize our elections with a series of election and voting reforms that would truly strengthen our democracy. The League worked behind the scenes to influence the language of the H.R. 1, the For the People Act, including a push to include Same Day Registration. This bill passed out of the House in the last session, but the Senate declined to debate it. The outcome could be different this time if we show a groundswell of support.

Included in this bill is a requirement that states use independent redistricting commissions to draw Congressional district lines (something that state legislators often do themselves, drawing maps that benefit the politicians, not the voters.) That means this bill could end gerrymandering at the national level!

Please take action now to ask your Representative and Senator to support HR1!

This is an opportunity to make our elections free, fair, and accessible. It would make access to voting easier, while ensuring secure elections. There are provisions for campaign finance reform, Federal Election Commission reform, automatic voter registration, and standardization of redistricting criteria. You can see a summary of the bill here or the full text here.

Your advocacy right now is important. Use the above link to ask your U.S. Representative to pass H.R. 1, then call Senator Lindsay Graham and Senator Tim Scott and let them know you want the For the People Act to be a priority. (There is a companion bill in the Senate, S. 1.) There should be bipartisan support for making our election system free, fair, and equitable.

Announcement: LWVSC Forming 2021 Redistricting Advisory Committee

Elections should be decided in the voting booth, not the map room.

In 2021, following the release of the decennial census data, legislative district lines must be redrawn to account for population changes, so that each district includes approximately the same number of people.

Since 2012, the SC Legislature has declined consideration of bills creating an Independent Redistricting Commission for SC that would have protected against partisan or incumbent gerrymandering during this process. Over 15 states are now using some form of commission instead of having legislators draw their own lines.

In 2021, the League of Women Voters of South Carolina (LWVSC) will be drawing and submitting district maps to the public and to the SC Legislature for consideration. We hope to influence thinking in the General Assembly, but more importantly to encourage the public to understand the potential uses and abuses of the process and become engaged in speaking up on behalf of their right to a meaningful vote.

To help inform our process, the LWVSC is creating a Redistricting Advisory Committee (RAC) with the intention of having a transparent, nonpartisan process that considers diverse perspectives. The committee will be formed of between 9 and 13 members, who will collectively offer varying geographical and political viewpoints and represent a variety of communities of interest.

The RAC will meet virtually with the LWV Redistricting Workgroup three times with the following responsibilities:

  • Review demographic changes and discuss potential impacts to voting districts
  • Identify communities that may be particularly impacted by redistricting, and that may be vulnerable to impacts of gerrymandering
  • Suggest ways to prioritize often-divergent map-drawing criteria to create a series of acceptable maps
  • Analyze maps drawn by LWV experts in advance of submission and make recommendations for how to improve them

Criteria to be used to draw districts:

Beyond the legal redistricting requirements, which include maintaining compact and contiguous districts that comply with the Voting Rights Act, there is significant opportunity for manipulation in the map-drawing process that may disadvantage voters. The criteria we use, along with the maps we produce, will be made public.

We believe that criteria for the map-drawing process should exclude partisan and incumbent protection and should not be drawn with the intention of reducing competitiveness. District lines should avoid splitting counties and precincts when possible. The process of drawing district maps should be open and transparent, and include an avenue for meaningful public input.

Criteria for Redistricting: A Foundation for Democracy (Or Not)

Here’s the release of our recommended redistricting criteria PLUS don’t miss another important announcement at the end of this post!

Ideally, legislators have no role in drawing the districts that they hope to represent. Drawing their own lines allows them to choose their voters instead of allowing voters to choose their representatives. However, the South Carolina General Assembly has shown no inclination to establish an independent redistricting commission and give up the power to protect themselves and their parties. Therefore, strict rules are critical to people-based redistricting. 

South Carolina has very non-competitive legislative districts at present. In 2020, over half of SC State House seats were not contested by a major party candidate (www.SCVotes.gov), and of those that were, the average margin of victory is the highest in the nation. Analysis shows that this is not largely the product of a majority party skewing things in their direction, although that is certainly a factor. A greater effect exists because incumbents of both parties have protected themselves at the expense of voters by distorting district lines to give themselves friendly voters. This must change. It deprives us as citizens of a meaningful voice in our representative form of government, and it adds to the disabling polarization that afflicts our politics.

The League of Women Voters of South Carolina believes the criteria we present here – if adopted by legislative map drawers – would result in districts that better served the voters within them. Within our proposed structure, there would still be decisions to make, choices among multiple potential solutions. There is no one right answer. However, there would be guard rails to direct decision-making away from the self-interest of legislators and toward the interests of voters.

Readers are encouraged to review our criteria in detail here. Summarizing briefly:

Districts must:

  • comply with the U. S. Constitution and the federal Voting Rights Act;
  • achieve substantial population equality between districts; and
  • be geographically contiguous.

Districts must NOT:

  • be drawn to favor or discriminate against an incumbent, candidate, or party;
  • be drawn to reduce competitiveness.

To the greatest extent possible, districts should:

  • be geographically compact and avoid bizarre shapes;
  • maintain and respect the geographic integrity of any municipality, county, or current voting precinct;
  • consider communities of interest. 

Some criteria are legally mandated, while others reflect decisions that must be made now to shape the foundation on which we will build our legislature in the next decade. Perhaps the most troublesome is that of communities of interest. This is too often a wild card, used to justify results that are desired for self-serving reasons. It is legitimate to consider factors including those that are economic, social, and cultural, and those that relate to governments including cities and counties. Media markets and lines of transportation and travel can be significant. However, these should not be allowed to serve as proxies for relationships with candidates or parties, with candidate residences, or with voting history.

Interested in seeing how using our criteria might affect the maps? Stay tuned! In the next few days we will release one version of how our criteria might have shaped the districts drawn in 2011, in contrast to those that were actually drawn and currently in use. 

Lynn Teague, LWVSC VP of Issues and Action, authored this blog post.

A Sneak Peek at South Carolina Population Changes

While we await formal census data that will be required for the redistricting process to begin (likely in a special legislative session), we can get a “sneak peak” of the population changes that will necessitate new district lines.

Since legislative districts must legally include approximately the same number of people, areas that experience population growth will then be part of a geographically smaller district. In areas where population shrinks, the geographic size of the district will grow.

Population changes in SC Senate Districts
Population changes in SC House Districts

Growth continues in South Carolina’s urban communities and along the coast. Most notably, the Rock Hill area has exploded, so will gain representation. The flip side of the urban areas gaining representation is that rural areas that have lost population will lose representation. Districts along the I-95 corridor have lost population. Below is the chart showing population deviations in SC Congressional Districts, relative to 2010 (when we gained a 7th Congressional district because of high population growth relative to other states):

Population Changes in SC Congressional Districts

SC’s 1st congressional district, and its most politically competitive one, includes much of Charleston and Beaufort counties, areas which have experienced robust growth in the past decade.

While we are waiting for the census data, there is a lot of work to do. In the coming weeks, we will be publishing the criteria that we hope will be used to determine how new districts are drawn – watch this blog to be among the first to read the criteria. We will also be holding virtual public forums to educate citizens on how to analyze maps and how to advocate against gerrymandering.

Many thanks to John Ruoff for creating these population deviation charts using American Community Survey (ACS) data and for his continued guidance on all things redistricting. We highly recommend this series of short articles that Ruoff wrote for Women In Leadership.

Supreme Court permits early end to census count

On Tuesday, October 13, the Supreme Court ruled that the Trump administration could end the door-to-door counting phase of the census on October 15, two weeks earlier than originally planned. The administration had originally extended the deadline for counting from the end of July to the end of October in response to the pandemic. Later, the administration announced that the count would end at the end of September instead. A lawsuit had blocked the early end, but the Supreme Court decision overruled that order.

Plaintiffs had argued that the early end would result in significant undercounts, primarily of urban residents and indigenous people, which would leave them underrepresented when political districts are drawn and federal funds are allocated to states.

The Trump administration is still pursuing a proposal to exclude undocumented immigrants from the count, despite the Constitution’s requirement that “the whole number of people in each state” be used to apportion representatives to states. The court will take up that dispute later this year.

Witness Signature Whiplash

South Carolina has long had a requirement for mail-in absentee ballots that the ballot envelope be signed by the voter and by a witness.

For the June primary, a federal judge struck down the witness requirement on the grounds that during the pandemic emergency, the requirement would place some voters in danger. The state election commission and the LWVSC advocated that the recent legislation allowing no-excuse absentee voting also remove the witness requirement for the November general election, but the legislature did not include that provision.

A lawsuit was filed in the same court and the same judge removed the requirement. On appeal, a three-judge panel reinstated the requirement, then the full appeals court reversed the panel decision. The appeals continued to the Supreme Court, which ruled that the requirement could stand while the lower-court proceedings continued. That ended the matter, at least through the election.

So where we stand now is, you need to get a witness signature. The witness needs to sign and provide an address. Anybody who can sign their name and write their address can be a witness. There is no age limit, no requirement that the witness be a voter, no need for a notary. Just make sure someone signs.

Governor Signs Absentee Voting Expansion

The SC legislature convened this month and among other actions being considered, they passed a bill that includes an expansion of the absentee voting criteria. As in the June primary, any voter can request an absentee ballot or vote early in person for the November, 2020 election without specifying one of the usual 17 permitted excuses. For paper ballots returned by mail or in person, a witness signature is still required. That requirement was waived in June by a federal judge. A similar case is still in process for November, but has not yet been decided.

The bill also permits election offices to begin opening absentee ballot envelopes on November 1, which should help speed counting. The South Carolina Association of Registration and Election Officials (SCARE) had also proposed expanded use of drop boxes, but that proposal was not included in the bill.

For information on absentee voting, visit https://scvotes.org.

Your Health and Your Vote

[Guest post from Lynn Teague, LWVSC VP for Issues and Action]

No one should have to risk their health in order to vote. However, if nothing changes, that is what will be asked of the majority of voters in South Carolina on November 3. Current law requires most voters and the workers who assist them to congregate in large numbers in confined spaces on Election Day. Every reputable expert believes that the pandemic will continue to be a significant danger in November. Every voter should nevertheless be able to vote safely. It is contrary to good sense to compel voters to gather in polling places on one day, where maintaining social distancing will be very difficult and the potential for contagion high.

The Executive Director of the State Election Commission (SEC), Marci Andino, has warned South Carolina’s government leaders that major changes are urgently needed. The organization representing South Carolina’s local election officials, SCARE, also has warned that unless changes are made there will be “devastating consequences.” The League of Women Voters of South Carolina strongly supports these pleas for help from the people who help us vote. The General Assembly must act, and the Governor must support legislators in doing so. They must do so as soon as possible to give both election officials and voters time to plan and to carry out those plans. It is great that Senate President Peeler has recalled the Senate to work on these issues on September 2. However, the House remains scheduled not to return until mid-September, when they might or might not make the needed changes. That is very late to leave this great uncertainty about basic aspects of election process.

The impact of the November 2020 voting process will be felt far beyond the election itself. Retaining current high-risk procedures would represent a grave and unnecessary challenge to efforts to restore normalcy in South Carolina. Election Day could become a “super-spreader event” that would adversely affect businesses, schools, and other basic social functions.

The General Assembly needs to make these basic changes that are consistent with requests from our election officials:

  • Reinstate the “state of emergency” reason for absentee voting, allowing every voter to choose to vote absentee-by-mail, early in person, or in person on election day.
  • Allow voters to apply online for an absentee ballot.
  • Remove the witness requirement for absentee ballot return envelopes.
  • Allow use of secure drop boxes for return of absentee ballots at protected locations other than election offices, for example, public libraries or town halls.
  • Provide election officials with more time (as much as possible ) to process absentee-by-mail ballots and extend the date by which counties must certify the results of the election.

Regrettably, voting issues are too often embroiled in partisan politics. That should not be the case here. Both of our country’s major national political parties are energetically encouraging their voters to vote early and even specifically to vote absentee by mail. Independent studies show no inherent partisan bias in voting methods. Reputable sources also show that instances of fraud from voting absentee-by-mail are extremely rare. All voting methods require security precautions, but South Carolina’s election officials have abundant experience ensuring the security of the absentee voting methods that are requested for our 2020 elections.

We hope that the General Assembly and the Governor will take action as soon as possible to make sound decisions in time for the November elections, as they did for the June primaries.

However, time is of the essence. In the absence of legislative action as of August 20, the League of Women Voters of South Carolina has filed an amicus brief in the case of Duggins v. Lucas, for which the South Carolina Supreme Court has granted original jurisdiction. We hope that the courts will act to do what the legislature has not.

Our November 2020 elections must be true to the best in our American beliefs and traditions – safe, secure, and accessible to all qualified citizens.

Lynn Shuler Teague, Vice President for Issue and Action

League of Women Voters of South Carolina

%d bloggers like this: