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The 2022 midterm elections are the first of the Biden era. They're also the first since the 2020 census, which means there are new congressional districts. There are U.S. Senate races in the Carolinas as well, along with many state and local races.

South Carolina redistricting under fire from civil rights groups

Drawing up new political maps is on the to-do list for South Carolina lawmakers. Redistricting maps for the State House and Congress must be drawn every 10 years to reflect the latest census data on South Carolina's population. This year, the process is coming under fire from civil rights groups who say lawmakers are delaying it. Joining us to discuss what's happening with South Carolina's redistricting efforts is Scott Huffmon, a political science professor and executive director of the Center for Public Opinion and Policy Research at Winthrop University.

Gwendolyn Glenn: Well, let's start with a quick summary about how redistricting is done in South Carolina. Who draws the maps?

Scott Huffmon
Winthrop University
Scott Huffmon

Scott Huffmon: Well, like a lot of states, the politicians get to draw their own maps. There are a handful of states where they're trying to get away from that, where they have either nonpartisan commissions or bipartisan commissions working on it with more governor involvement. South Carolina historically has been a legislatively powered state. Both chambers will draw up their own maps.

There will be a vote between the two. Sometimes little power plays can affect which one they're allowed to vote on. That happened in 2010. And then there is a time for public input. And finally, they're put out there and would be candidates are told, "OK, it's time to start running."

Glenn: Lawmakers have pushed part of the mapmaking process until the end of this year or early next year, and now the ACLU and NAACP have sued, saying the new timeline leaves very little for, among other things, potential legal challenges ahead of the March primaries. Explain why lawmakers moved the timeline. And what specifically are the concerns in the lawsuit?

Huffmon: Well, the main concern with the lawsuits are that there won't be enough time for experts outside of the legislature to look at these districts and tell whether or not they're truly fair. Obviously, anything put out by the legislature — they're going to say it's completely fair. In the last 50 years, we've had five redistrictings. Four of the times there were lawsuits about them.

And if the timeline between when candidate filings for the district must happen are very quickly after the vote on those districts, there is really not much time for public input. And that's where you're going to see the ACLU or the NAACP or anybody who may have a problem with these come in and have their voice heard.

Like, for example, you know, some are overpopulated now, some are underpopulated, and one of those involves our gerrymandered-from-1992-majority-minority district, currently Jim Clyburn's district. So, the NAACP is absolutely going to want to take a look at these.

Glenn: Well, let's talk about the census data. South Carolina gained about 500,000 people. Where was that movement in South Carolina's population over the past decade and how do you think that's going to play out in the redistricting process?

Huffmon: You see a lot of movement in the major urban areas in South Carolina. Of course, Greenville-Spartanburg is a hub, Columbia is a hub. But growth in Charleston and in Horry County in the Myrtle Beach area and, in the 2010 census, actually the area on my county in Rock Hill was the fastest growing. And that's because we are right next to Charlotte, North Carolina, and we have a lot of folks hopping the border. And so, we have folks retiring to South Carolina. They tend to locate more on the coast or near an urban hub. So, that's still where the growth patterns tend to be.

Glenn: Now, the public weighed in in meetings that were held in various parts of the state. What did residents say? And will their opinions really count?

Huffmon: Let me answer your second question first: not really. It's a little bit of smoke and mirrors. It is a legitimate chance to get your voice heard. But unless you can back up your opinion with data and say, "Here's why I feel this way," it's basically just seen as a way for people to let off steam. And you'll hear everything from, "My community isn't fairly represented" from minorities to what do the white supremacists say about the "great population overtake" or whatever? You'll hear all sorts of things like that in open meetings. So, in general, more letting off steam, less impact.

Glenn: So, what will you be watching for as this process plays out? And what's next in the process?

Huffmon: Well, we'll actually see different groups submit potential plans for them, even before it's decided. The best one I saw was from a student at one of the small colleges in Columbia who did it for a project. That was the best drawn one I thought I had ever seen.

So, I'm going to be looking for the committees when they meet back up, who they're listening to in the hearings and where they're getting their data and who's getting to map it.

Glenn: Well, Scott, thank you so much for joining us.

Huffmon: Oh, my absolute pleasure. Thank you for having me.

Glenn: Scott Huffmon is a political science professor and executive director of the Center for Public Opinion and Policy Research at Winthrop University.

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Gwendolyn is an award-winning journalist who has covered a broad range of stories on the local and national levels. Her experience includes producing on-air reports for National Public Radio and she worked full-time as a producer for NPR’s All Things Considered news program for five years. She worked for several years as an on-air contract reporter for CNN in Atlanta and worked in print as a reporter for the Baltimore Sun Media Group, The Washington Post and covered Congress and various federal agencies for the Daily Environment Report and Real Estate Finance Today. Glenn has won awards for her reports from the Maryland-DC-Delaware Press Association, SNA and the first-place radio award from the National Association of Black Journalists.