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

H. 3054: A Path to Empowering Voters and Decreasing Political Polarization

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!