The current hot topic among state legislators both here in South Carolina and across our nation is “redistricting.”
I have received many questions from islanders who are curious about redistricting and how it affects us locally as well as what its impact could be across our state.
It’s certainly reasonable that the topic is unfamiliar for many. The issue comes up only every 10 years, shortly after the decennial U.S. Census. Plus, nearly every state deals with the nuances of redistricting slightly differently, and over time, since the U.S. Constitution was established in 1789, there have been several mandated changes both for Congress and for each state about how government representation at the legislative level is constructed.
The most recent of these mandates came in 1964 when the U.S. Supreme Court declared that election districts at both the federal and state level must be “roughly equal” in population. It was a major step in applying the principal of “one person, one vote” to all legislative bodies in America.
Prior to that case numerous state legislatures, including South Carolina, had districts containing dramatically unequal populations. The most egregious at the time was in Nevada, where one district had 568 people and another had more than 127,000. It was at that time Chief Justice Earl Warren of the Supreme Court famously pronounced “state legislatures must equally represent people, not trees or acreage.”
As defined, “redistricting” is the process of drawing electoral district boundaries. While the definition seems simple enough, it is because of another word – “reapportionment” (the reassignment of representation in legislative districts due to changes in population reflected in the most recent Census) that typically causes controversy and strife every 10 years.
Since 1789, when the Congressional House of Representatives was put in place, there appears just two components still remain. The first is that elections for members of Congress are held every two years, and the second is that an official census be held every 10 years. The first U.S. Census was held in 1790 under then Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson. And, we just completed the 23rd U.S. Census last year, with the results being made public only this summer.
Over the past decade, South Carolina mushroomed in population by 478,737 individuals. That was greater than a 10% growth. Most of the increase occurred along the coast from Horry County through Charleston to Beaufort County, as well as the Rock Hill area, and other suburbs of Charlotte, N.C.
A problem for residents in rural areas across our state is that they have lost population as people have migrated to urban areas. Therefore, representation for rural South Carolina is going to diminish in the General Assembly.
District boundaries for most of the 124 state legislators are expected to be redrawn, including here in Southern Beaufort County. And, since Hilton Head’s resident population has remained relatively stable, I expect our District 123 will need to be enlarged by about 4,000 residents into Bluffton.
We will learn more soon.
Jeff Bradley is the representative for District 123 in the State House of Representatives.