The S.C. House and Senate plan to spend millions creating new legislative and congressional district maps based on the latest U.S. Census – a convoluted process that lawmakers undertake every 10 years.
Historically, the “reapportionment” or “redistricting” process has been aimed at keeping incumbent legislators in office, though it’s not the official line from politicians.
“I look forward to our working together on a redistricting process that is fair and equitable to all South Carolinians,” longtime Sen. Luke Rankin, R-Horry, who is the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, said in a press release last week in announcing the members of a redistricting subcommittee chaired by him.
The subcommittee Tuesday held an initial organizational meeting. On Wednesday, Rep. Chris Murphy, R-Dorchester, who is the House Judiciary Committee chairman, announced in a letter to House members that chamber’s redistricting panel, to be chaired by Rep. Jay Jordan, R-Florence, who also is the House Ethics Committee chairman.
The House panel’s first meeting is set for Aug. 3.
In the state budget for the fiscal year that started July 1, the House chamber received $2 million out of nonrecurring surplus funds for “reapportionment,” budget records show. The Senate received $4 million out of surplus funds under a budget category labeled as “operating costs/reapportionment,” plus another nearly $3 million in recurring general funds under the same category.
In comparison, the House and Senate appropriated $1 million to each chamber for redistricting expenses following the 2010 U.S. Census, as The Nerve reported then.
In a written response Wednesday to The Nerve, Senate clerk Jeff Gossett said the funds “added to the Senate’s budget will be used to pay all expenses incurred during the reapportionment process,” including “necessary hardware and software required to utilize the census data and produce maps, appropriate staffing, any expenses incurred to hold the public hearings, legal fees, and any other appropriate expenses.”
He also said two law firms were hired to assist the Senate: the Columbia-based Terreni Law Firm and the Washington, D.C.-based Jones Day firm.
Gossett didn’t immediately respond to follow-up questions about why the Senate chamber was appropriated millions more for redistricting expenses compared to what was budgeted following the 2010 Census.
House clerk Charles Reid didn’t respond this week to written questions from The Nerve about that chamber’s expected redistricting expenses. Murphy in an email response today said he was “out of the country with limited service,” and repeated basic meeting information in his letter Wednesday to House members.
Neither chamber is hurting for money these days. For this fiscal year, the total budgets for the House and Senate chambers are $25.2 million and $22.6 million, respectively, budget records show.
And that doesn’t include the chambers’ huge reserves. At the start of last fiscal year, the House and Senate had $23.7 million and $5.8 million in surpluses, respectively, according to state comptroller general records.
From 2010 to last year, South Carolina’s total population grew from 4,625,364 to 5,118,425, an increase of 493,061, or about 10.7%, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Based on those figures, the average state Senate district would grow from about 100,551 to 111,270 residents, while the average House district would grow from about 37,301 to 41,277 residents.
The state’s population growth over the 10-year period wasn’t enough to mandate the addition of an eighth U.S. House seat.
But lawmakers have more freedom now to redraw legislative and congressional district lines to benefit their political party. The U.S. Supreme Court in 2019 banned federal challenges to partisan gerrymandering, which allows the political party controlling a state legislature to draw voting maps favoring its candidates.
Republicans control both chambers of the S.C. General Assembly.
Racial gerrymandering is prohibited, though the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013 ended the longstanding requirement that nine mostly Southern states, including South Carolina, seek advance federal approval, or “preclearance,” to changes in election laws or practices under the Voting Rights Act, which bans racial discrimination in voting.
Last year, all 124 S.C. House seats and 46 Senate seats were up for election, though incumbents largely cruised to victory. Of the total 170 seats, 115 incumbents (88 House members, 27 senators), or nearly 68% overall, faced no primary election opponents and were re-elected, state election records show. That group included the following longtime legislative leaders on both sides of the aisle:
- Senate Finance Committee chairman Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence; Senate president Harvey Peeler, R-Cherokee; Senate Transportation Committee chairman Larry Grooms, R-Berkeley; and former Senate minority leader Nikki Setzler, D-Lexington.
- House speaker Jay Lucas, R-Darlington; House Ways and Means Committee chairman Murrell Smith, R-Sumter; House majority leader Gary Simrill, R-York; and House minority leader Todd Rutherford, D-Richland.
Following are members of the House Redistricting Ad Hoc Committee: chairman Jordan and Reps. Justin Bamberg, D-Bamberg; Beth Bernstein, D-Richland; Neal Collins, R-Pickens; Jason Elliott, R-Greenville; Patricia Henegan, D-Marlboro; Brandon Newton, R-Lancaster; and Weston Newton, R-Beaufort.
The Senate Judiciary Redistricting Subcommittee is made up of chairman Rankin and Sens. Chip Campsen, R-Charleston; Dick Harpootlian, D-Richland; Margie Bright Matthews, D-Colleton; Ronnie Sabb, D-Williamsburg; Scott Talley, R-Spartanburg; and Tom Young, R-Aiken.
All but two of the House and Senate redistricting panel members are attorneys.