SC Senate to hold public redistricting hearings around state, starting in Columbia

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The South Carolina Senate will hold 10 public hearings across the state, starting in Columbia the last week of July, to speak directly to the public about the redistricting process and hear their concerns before the Legislature redraws district lines.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Luke Rankin said Tuesday the process will play out in person at physical locations but said the public can also give testimony online or watch the hearings through the State House website’s live stream.

The hearings are scheduled to start after work at 6:30 p.m., with the Senate’s goal to complete their maps by October.

The first public meeting will be held July 27 in Columbia, at the Senate Gressette Building in room 105 to tackle: Calhoun, Clarendon, Fairfield, Kershaw, Lexington, Newberry, Orangeburg, Saluda, Richland and Sumter counties.

Senators will hold their final meeting on Aug. 12 at the Aiken Technical College in Graniteville.

The House — up for reelection in 2022 — has not released their own schedule, though House Judiciary Committee Chairman Chris Murphy, R-Dorchester, told The State last week that it’s his intention to hold the first legislative meeting in early August.

“There should be no reason folks would not be able to have their voices heard with every known technology, or medium, available. We want to be as open as we can be and develop a record,” said Rankin, R-Horry. “By written submission, by spoken word, again, live or remotely, all comers are welcome.”

SC Senate redistricting process

How the once-in-a-decade process usually shakes out is the U.S. Census Bureau releases population data early in the year, the Legislature, with help, redraws the district lines based on where the population is booming or shrinking and new maps are published. And the political party in power usually has an advantage in determining how the lines ultimately are drawn.

But this year, upended by the COVID-19 pandemic, population data that’ll include local population counts by race, voting age and housing occupancy status used to draw voting districts won’t be available to lawmakers until Aug. 16, putting lawmakers on a time crunch.

Still, advocates — and lawmakers — are hopeful South Carolinians will tune in.

The Legislature will use the drilled down state and local population data to redraw their own districts and those for Congress.

That helps determine political power in Washington and on the state and local levels. But, importantly, it also determines how the federal government spends $1.5 trillion in federal program spending in health care and education.

There’s a strong political factor to it also, said Lynn Teague, with the League of Women Voters South Carolina.

“It drives polarization, it can become too homogeneous and where everything is decided in the primary, and then the outcomes in terms of policy are dictated by the far ends of the respective parties, by the extremes,” Teague said. “When you wonder why the General Assembly seems to be on a different track than what we see from polling in the general population, the answer is probably right there.”

State lawmakers in the Republican-controlled General Assembly haven’t said which areas of the state might be targets.

But South Carolina’s population grew considerably — 10.7%, or nearly 500,000 more people — over the 2010 Census figures to more than 5.1 million people. That increase was not enough to add or lose a seat in Congress, keeping the state’s representation in the U.S. House at seven members.

With that population, Senate Judiciary Committee counsel, Columbia attorney Charlie Terreni, said Tuesday an ideal Senate district will be a bit more than 110,200 people, leaving the smallest Senate district with more than 105,000 people and the largest with more than 116,000 people.

An ideal Senate district was below 100,600 people in the last cycle.

Lawmakers question the timing

On Tuesday, two of three Democrats on the Senate’s redistricting panel — Sens. Dick Harpootlian, of Richland, and Margie Bright Matthews, of Colleton — questioned why the committee would hold public hearings before Census data is released and expressed concern the time crunch would leave the public out, particularly in those areas without strong broadband.

“I’m concerned about making sure we specifically are going to not only (say), ‘Hey we’re going to have these hearings,’ but what are these hearings for and who can attend?” Bright Matthews said.

To that, Rankin said they intend to use social media, public television, news reports and lawmakers themselves to get the word out. And to any cynicism, Rankin told reporters Tuesday there are “checks and balances” by the process and the courts.

“All we can do to quell or curb cynicism is make it as open as we can, invite them to come,” Rankin said. “We can lead them to water, but we can’t make them drink.”

SC Senate’s redistricting schedule

The Senate will hold 10 meetings across the state to take testimony. Each meeting will start at 6:30 p.m.

— Tuesday, July 27, Senate’s Gressette Building in Columbia

— Wednesday, July 28, Central Carolina Technical College in Sumter

— Thursday, July 29, York Technical College in Rock Hill

— Monday, Aug. 2, Greenville County Council Chambers in Greenville

— Tuesday, Aug. 3, Florence-Darlington Technical College in Florence

— Wednesday, Aug. 4, Auditorium in MacLean Hall at Technical College of the Lowcountry in Beaufort

— Monday, Aug. 9, Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College in Orangeburg

— Tuesday, Aug. 10, Trident Technical College in North Charleston

— Wednesday, Aug. 11, Horry-Georgetown Technical College in Conway

— Thursday, Aug. 12, Aiken Technical College in Graniteville

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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