File photo | Credit: Sean Rayford file

The South Carolina Progressive Network will hold an event on the steps of the State House next week, Tues. Jan. 14 to educate citizens on the “damage that gerrymandering is doing,” according to the group’s leader Brett Bursey.

“We need to do a major educational push on the problem,” he says. “Let’s have some hearings on it.”

The conference will be a public display with 170 citizens, each representing one S.C. lawmaker, standing on the State House steps to look like a piece of “installation art,” as Bursey describes it. Some participants will hold black signs to portray non-competitive districts and red signs to represent competitive districts — not surprisingly, the black signs will outnumber the red.

The process of gerrymandering, or redrawing voting district lines to maximize a party’s likelihood of winning an election, has long been a target for advocates, who claim that it decreases an election’s competitiveness, making the districts less democratic. Since 2003, victories in state elections have gone largely to the Republican party.

“We want competition,” says Bursey. “We want multiple candidates that have to argue on positions and values and ideas that are real and tangible in people’s lives.” Fair Maps SC, an affiliate of the S.C. Progressive Network, advocates for a team of qualified citizen volunteers to draw a final map, which cannot be vetoed or altered by the legislature. The organization’s current proposed maps would create more competitive elections, according to their website.

Former state Sen. Phil Leventis will host the event and S.C. Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter will front a bipartisan group of legislators to speak on the negative impacts of gerrymandering.

The event is scheduled for the first day of the 2020 legislative session. During the 2019 session, S.C. Sens. Tom Davis, Marlon Kimpson, and Chauncey Gregory introduced Bill 135, an amendment that would create an “Independent Reapportionment Commission.”

The proposed commission would be composed of nine members, selected by a three-person Applicant Review Panel, who are appointed by the governor. The bill was sent to the Committee on Judiciary on Jan. 8, 2019.

Bursey says that the Progressive Network could support the measure. “We would want to tweak it some, but we would like to see competitive terms and structure,” he says.

South Carolina’s House and Senate districts will be redrawn after the 2020 Census.

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