Charleston state House of Representative districts would get more partisan, less competitive and less diverse under the draft proposal put forward by the Republican-led redistricting committee last week. And despite continued growth, Charleston County’s House delegation would actually shrink by two members, costing residents power and influence over the next decade.
This is strategic to minimize the impact of local Democrats.
Republican leaders open every meeting of the House and Senate redistricting committees by describing the process by which state cartographers divide up S.C. voters. Arcane buzz phrases like “communities of interest,” “deviation” and “incumbency” may make voters feel the process is thoughtful and thorough. But in reality, it’s the opposite.
Virtually nobody with a critical eye on the new proposals scores them as competitive or ensuring democratic representation. The League of Women Voters says only 12 of the state’s 124 House districts would be competitive.
For example, in both plans, James Island residents are used to disperse Democratic votes or consolidate GOP blocs.
One additional Senate district anchored in West Ashley could go to Democrats, but to do so, it would slice through James Island and downtown, meaning the peninsula would be represented by three different senators. In Mount Pleasant residents’ cries for common-sense Senate boundaries continue to go unheard, with four senators’ districts proposed to criss-cross East Cooper — none of whom currently live in the town. That kind of representation in Mount Pleasant diffuses voters’ power and means some communities go ignored.
In addition to excising two Democratic House districts from the Charleston County delegation, House Republicans have bent over backwards to protect their own. State Rep. William Cogswell’s district is now proposed to span Mount Pleasant, downtown and the predominantly white inner-suburban areas of West Ashley and James Island. The proposed district is 88% white — one of the highest concentrations in a state where one in three residents is Black.
In all, the proposed districts consolidate local nonwhite voters into Democratic districts, with Black voters making up less than 15% of each existing GOP district. This is a process known in the parlance of gerrymandering as “packing.”
Looking at an egregious example of packing in Bamberg County, League of Women Voters vice president Lynn Teague wrote on Facebook that proposed House District 90 “would be basically a dead district in November, the outcome already known.”
“This harms minority voters. There are so many in the one district that many of their votes are technically wasted — not needed to achieve a win,” she said.
And where lawmakers haven’t stacked the deck by the numbers, they just draw new lines.
S.C. Rep. Lin Bennett’s West Ashley district won’t see much demographic change, but her former Democratic opponent, Ed Sutton, is now conveniently drawn into Democratic state Rep. Leon Stavrinakis’ neighboring district.
So who wins in all this political fiddling?
Teague: “No one but the incumbent and maybe incumbents’ in adjacent districts, happy to see all those minority votes neutralized.”
S.C. voters deserve more than the take-what-you-get-and-like-it manipulations of our state’s elected Republican leaders. Take it seriously and give us fair representation.