What You Need to Know About Redistricting

What You Need to Know About Redistricting

Most legislators don’t care if the district mapping process is fair as long as the new lines ensure their own re-election. 

This unfortunate fact is true even when the process unfairly affects people who look just like them. 

Mia McLeod was new to the S.C. House in 2011, when it was time to adjust districts in the wake of the 2010 census. 

Like most of us, she had not previously considered how district lines were drawn, but she learned quickly that her district—a “swing” district—would be targeted when it came time to redraw the lines after the 2010 census. 

Seasoned colleagues who were not planning to run for re-election quietly advised McLeod to be vigilant as the redistricting process unfolded. 

On the surface, “safe” districts might sound like a good idea: pack a district with like- minded people to ensure a candidate’s re-election. But McLeod rightly found the idea offensive: “I can represent people whether they look and think like me or not,” she argued. 

What McLeod learned about the redistricting process shocked and dismayed her: the majority party gets to draw both state legislature and U.S. Congressional maps and does so in a way that ensures not only the preservation of that majority but the erasure of other voices. 

In South Carolina, that means diminishing the voices of about forty percent of our citizens by drawing lines that cluster most of them in a small number of districts. 

Fair redistricting would use each new census to create districts reflecting the diversity of our state and fostering competitive elections. 

Why is that a good idea? 

With fair districts, elected representatives would have to listen to their constituents and work on their behalf or risk losing re-election. 

Instead, the system we have in South Carolina allows the majority party to create “safe” homogeneous districts where representatives are practically ensured of re-election, even when they rarely (or ever) show up for votes or take time to listen to their constituents. 

Such a process undermines the core of our democratic election process by creating an environment that both stifles citizens’ voices and fails to hold elected officials accountable. 

Having researched the process, McLeod received permission to share information with her House colleagues, but the materials she had printed to distribute mysteriously disappeared. 

Even representatives of majority minority districts—the people who should most appreciate the need for fairer representation—privately asked McLeod to drop the issue of reforming the process out of a self-interested desire to be easily re-elected. 

South Carolina needs an independent commission to redraw district lines after the 2020 census—lines that will be in place for the next decade. This is the year that our legislature must pass a bill to ensure a fair process. 

Several bills are pending, but unless legislators feel the heat from constituents to pass them, they will die. 

Without an independent commission, self-interested legislators will draw new maps quietly and behind closed doors, keeping the process hidden and off the public radar. 

Don’t wait until you enter the voting booth one day—as some of McLeod’s own neighbors did—to discover that the person you planned to support is no longer in your district. 

Contact your representatives now—and repeatedly—until they pass a bill ensuring a fair and transparent process.

 

Nancy Tuten 
Get It Write

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