Tucked away in the Blatt Office building on the Statehouse grounds is a space known as the “map room.” Inside is where House members look at Census figures, population data, and (of course) maps as they work to decide how to draw the political lines for the next decade.
The population growth shown in the 2010 Census means legislators will have to add a seventh congressional district in South Carolina. But it’s not just a simple reshuffling– each district has to be equal in size, containing roughly 660,000 people.
Not only that, but each of the state’s 46 Senate seats and 124 House seats also must be equally portioned.
While the “map room” itself is hardly extraordinary– it consists of four computer stations, printers, and several maps spread across its walls– legislators and staff say the software used at those stations is a state-of-the-art. “Maptitude 5.0” takes Census data and breaks it down on a local level, even down to the subdivision in many cases.
Rep. Alan Clemmons (R-Horry) leads the House panel that’s overseeing the process.
This isn’t an Excel spreadsheet. This is very specialized software that’s been in the making now for decades.
Each legislator can sign up for a time slot to use one of the stations. Most want to see data from their home district and how its population compares to the new requirement (37,301 people each). Legislators can then attempt to redraw the districts according to what they believe works best. But it’s not a simple matter of expanding a seat, since any gains would have to come out of another lawmaker’s district. Many are struggling, as 70 of the state’s House districts are currently below the threshold– meaning several representatives risk losing their seats in any realignment scenario. Most obervers agree several rural seats in the Piedmont and Pee Dee will likely shift to the Lowcountry to account for that region’s growth.
But there is another issue. Federal law does not allow the state to simply shift a seat with a majority black population. Since 19 of the 23 House seats with “minority-majority” populations are below the 37,000 mark, legislators will have to take the law into account. Clemmons said there will likely be “some struggles” to keep that delicate balance. He notes the law makes an exception if it is impossible to maintain a minority-majority population in an area.
“Maptitude 5.0” provides the population data, racial demographics, and the number of voting age residents for each block. Legislators can then use the software to move blocks into new districts in an effort to best keep their personal seat intact.
Lawmakers used a similar software in the last realignment cycle 10 years ago. Clemmons says the technology is far better now.
The product is much improved. The hardware that drives it is improved. The cost is much less. I’m fortunate for each of those… and the product is surprisingly easy to use.
And as for 20 years ago? Clemmons says the process was very different.
Because he was first elected in 2002, Clemmons missed the 2001 redistricting. In fact, no one on his panel was serving ten years ago. There are several House leaders who were around in 2001. One of those is Rep. Jim Harrison (R-Richland), a 22-year veteran who chairs the full committee that will determine the new map. Harrison also chaired the Judiciary Committee in 2001.
Clemmons’s panel will meet on Thursday for the first time since it finished holding hearings across the state two weeks ago. During Thursday’s meeting, the panel will decide on the range of the new districts’ population. Since it’s nearly impossible to apportion each district exactly, legislators will decide on an acceptable deviation from the 37,301 population mark. In future meetings, the panel will examine literally hundreds of submitted maps.
Both the House and Senate plan to create separate maps for house, senate, and congressional seats. Each body will then have to approve the final maps and work out any differences between them. The governor has the option to sign off on the plans or veto them. But that’s still not the final step. Since the state is covered under the federal Voting Rights Act, the U.S. Justice Department has to approve the final map. And that almost always leads to a lawsuit.
One thing’s certain. The process is still in its infancy and a long journey is still ahead.