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Politics

South Carolina redistricting maps clear House committee

A South Carolina House committee on Tuesday approved a proposed map to shape the state's House districts for the next decade.

The House Judiciary Committee voted 21-2, with two members abstaining, to advance the new map of 124 districts to the full chamber.

South Carolina draft district map
South Carolina State House of Representatives

The approval comes just over a week after the plan was first published, and after a group of lawmakers spent time earlier this year gathering public comments statewide.

Lawmakers drew the maps using 2020 U.S. Census data. Last year's census found that South Carolina grew by 10.7% in the last decade to more than 5.1 million people.

But the state didn't grow evenly, with many of its 500,000 new residents located along the coast, the South Carolina suburbs south of Charlotte, North Carolina, or around Greenville. Twenty-four of the state’s 46 counties, nearly all rural, saw their populations drop.

Committee members made a handful of tweaks to some of the proposed districts Tuesday to help keep some communities and precincts intact, saying those changes wouldn't drastically affect the map.

One of those changes would divide Orangeburg — a city of about 13,000 people, 74% of whom are Black — into two districts, instead of the three districts it was split into in the initial House map.

That would help protect representation for minority groups in the area, said Rep. Beth Bernstein, a Columbia Democrat.

The committee did table an amendment by Democratic Rep. John King, who submitted a change on behalf of Rep. Jerry Govan of Orangeburg.

Govan, who was put in a district with fellow Democratic Rep. Russell Ott, was seeking to redraw the map so as to “put him back back in the district where he lived,” King said.

The plan pairs incumbents in five districts, three sets of Democrats and two sets of Republicans.

An analysis of the proposed House districts before the Tuesday alterations by the Princeton University’s Gerrymandering Project determined they would likely see 83 Republicans elected — two more than the GOP’s current advantage among the 124 seats.

The House maps have faced greater criticism than those proposed by the Senate. The South Carolina League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan voter engagement group, argued at a public hearing last week that the maps appear to be more focused on protecting incumbents and ensuring Republicans maintain their current balance of power than keeping like-minded communities intact and not diluting minority voting power.

The clock is ticking for lawmakers, who need to approve state and U.S. House districts that will withstand any court challengesbefore the start of filing for 2022 elections in mid-March. A Senate committee has held hearings on its redistricting plan but has not voted on it.

Both chambers have yet to release a proposal for the U.S. House map that House and Senate will work collaboratively on.

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