State senators stopped in North Charleston to talk redistricting | Sam Spence file photo

Anyone who has crammed for an exam or rushed to complete a forgotten project knows last-minute work probably isn’t a best effort. 

But that’s exactly what the proposed state Senate version of a new map for South Carolina’s congressional districts appears to be — a thrown-together jumble to protect incumbents and thwart competitiveness. And the House version? Who knows? It hasn’t yet provided a draft of a congressional map, even though it is meeting for the next few days to talk about redistricting.

At issue is redrawing districts that are roughly the same size in population without being skewed too much to one party or the other, when that is possible.

The Senate’s proposed map essentially creates six districts that Republicans can easily win surrounded by an amoeba-shaped central district stretching from Columbia to Charleston that favors a Democrat. (Republicans currently hold six districts shaped similarly to the ones that are proposed; House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., holds the central district.)

The Senate’s congressional plan is weak. First, most districts tend to favor Republicans by a much larger margin than general across the state, which tends to find 55% of voters cast ballots for the GOP.

Second, the proposed districts are not competitive, scoring very low ratings in providing opportunities for a non-dominant party in a district to win. Similarly, there’s only one proposed district — the one Clyburn currently holds — that has been drawn to be competitive for a minority candidate.

Finally, the districts aren’t compact, in general, because they split too many counties and precincts to achieve the gerrymandering crafted by the Senate designers. Example: In the new map, Charleston County is split between Clyburn’s 6th District and Rep. Nancy Mace’s 1st District. But a proposal by the League of Women Voters of South Carolina shows how Charleston and North Charleston could be kept in the 1st while the 6th could shift more toward Columbia. 

Furthermore, there are ways to keep communities together that would make better districts. As highlighted by the League in testimony this week, “The Senate’s map produces what in our measure is a 14-percentage point partisan gap by slicing and dicing this clear community of interest in unreasonable ways. Charleston itself is split. Adjacent North Charleston would continue to be put into a district with Columbia, more than a hundred miles away, although it is very much a part of the social and economic networks associated with Charleston. James Island and Johns Island would be split.”

But retooling the 1st District as suggested by the League would create a more competitive district with a Republican lean that would give Democrats or third parties a chance to win along the Charleston coast, which has trended more Democratic in recent years.

Failing to keep North Charleston and Charleston together in the new congressional map would be a failure of public policy. It would mean people who live in the area would effectively lose the ability to pick who they really want to represent them. Why? Because a gerrymandered district that highly favors Republicans makes it virtually impossible for a candidate of another party to win. 

Bottom line: The Senate’s proposed map has a long way to go. State legislators should make sure districts are truly competitive and as fair as possible before rushing to pass a plan that was rushed in the first place.