All writers in Op Ed are here to inform and acknowledge issues of importance to our communities, however these writings represent the views and opinions of the authors and not necessarily of The Advertiser.
By Robert Scott
If your answer to that question is something like “the same one I live in now,” then you may be wrong. That’s not because you may move between now and November of next year; it’s because our state legislature is required to redraw all the district lines (both for state and for U.S. congressional districts) based on the 2020 census, and they have not done that yet. So, your house may be in the same place in 2022 that it is in 2021, but not in the same legislative district. The problem is not that such lines will be redrawn – they do that every 10 years, it’s a predictable requirement written into the U.S. Constitution and the court interpretations based on it. The problem is that our state legislature has not yet gotten down to the business of redrawing them.
As The Edgefield Advertiser reported last week, there is a study group now busily coming up with alternative lines for the state legislature to consider for state legislative districts. But we as a state are way behind where we should be, less than 13 months away from the 2022 elections. The legislature has committed to passing new district maps when it reconvenes, planned for some unspecified time in “December or January.” That timing creates a lot of issues, issues that led the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to file a federal lawsuit last week challenging the process. The ACLU has only filed two such cases out of fifty states: Ohio, earlier on; and now, South Carolina.
Why is this issue a problem? Here is why. Districts must have approximately equal populations, based on the most recent census. There has been little public discussion of any proposed new district lines based on the 2020 census, and the lines must be legally valid before the March 30 filing deadline for 2022 primaries. What does “legally valid” mean? For starters, South Carolina’s redrawn district lines have been litigated in the courts following the decennial censuses in 1970, 1980, 1990, 2000, and 2010; there is no reason to expect 2020 will be different. Such litigation takes time, with courts needing to decide whether there really has been sufficient public discussion, whether the district populations really are approximately equal, whether minority and majority representation in the redrawn districts is still representative in the ways required by various Civil Rights laws, and whether sufficient time has been allocated between when district lines are redrawn and when possible candidates can decide to run. Incumbents face easy decisions; the bodies redrawing the lines (especially for the state legislature itself) take pains that those currently in office representing a district still have their own legal residences remaining in those districts. It’s not as sure a thing whether a potential rival will find his or her home still in the district they wish to run in. You can see that such arguments and lawsuits are not easily settled in a week or even in a month. And that March 2022 date will be here before we know it.
What can we do now? The short answer is to be involved with our state legislators. Write, visit, or call them – and ask them to move up their schedule, to work over the holidays, if necessary, to ensure next year’s elections and the districts represented in those elections are fair and well thought out. As boring and mundane as redistricting sounds, doing it legally and doing it fairly are fundamental for our democracy to work, legally and fairly.