The House and Senate have both passed legislation that creates new election district maps in South Carolina for their respective chambers. However, Democrats are threatening a lawsuit, accusing GOP mapmakers of trying to minimize minority voters.
The focus of their complaints comes from a provision of the Voting Rights Act which deals with the creation of “minority-majority districts.” These are districts specifically drawn so that minorities (traditionally African-American) make up a majority of the population.
Minority-majority districts were created in the 1960s as a way to guarantee that African-Americans would have a voice in a segregation-minded South. Another part of the Voting Rights Act requires the U.S. Justice Department to approve any realignment plans. The agency has several rules with regard to the districts, mapmakers cannot eliminate them or drop their percentage of the “black voting age population” (BVAP) substantially, unless it is impossible to maintain.
The problems stem from how to draw the districts. Republicans want the districts to stay heavily-black; Democrats want the percentages dropped in individual districts so neighboring majority-white districts will get a larger blend of minority voters.
Rep. Alan Clemmons (R-Myrtle Beach) oversaw the redistricting process in the House. He said he’s surprised Democrats are upset by the proposal, which he said follows a federal law they historically support.
It seems like folks are taking a position contrary to where they would naturally be. It caused me to scratch my head the first time I saw a map proposed by Democrats in the House to undo a minority-majority district.
However, Democrats say their GOP counterparts are taking a strict interpretation of the Voting Rights Act that goes too far. They were especially unhappy with a last-minute change to District 79, which consists of the border area between Richland and Kershaw counties. The district has been represented by an African-American for the past three years, despite consisting of only a 34 BVAP.
Republicans on the redistricting panel voted to move the district out of Kershaw, therefore raising its BVAP dramatically above the 50-percent mark.
Rep. James Smith (D-Columbia) said the move violates the intent of federal law.
If you know that, at 34 percent, minorities within a community have an impact on electing an individual of their own choosing, then simply raising that number to 55, 58, 60, 65 percent does the converse. It takes it to an extreme and stands the Voting Rights Act on its head.
The woman who currently represents District 79, Rep. Mia Butler-Garrick, said she does not want the shift.
Two African-Americans have already won (the seat). This is proof that we neither need, nor are we asking, for the additional protection of majority-minority status.
The House proposal passed by a 92-24 vote Tuesday. Senators unanimously passed a plan for their own seats a day later. SC Democratic Party Chair Dick Harpootlian said his party plans to challenge the redistricting plans in court, telling the Associated Press the proposal amounts to “electoral apartheid.”
Clemmons said the extra requirements of minority-majority districts make realignment much more difficult. He said he believes South Carolina has moved beyond its troubled past with race and that he would like to see minority-majority districts eventually phased out.
If you look… in the First Congressional District, which comprises Horry, Georgetown, Charleston, Berkeley, Dorchester (counties)– the home of where the first shot was fired in the Civil War– we elected a minority member of Congress… We elected a minority female as governor.
At least one Democrat echoed Clemmons’s comments on the House floor. Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter (D-Orangeburg) said she would also like to see new consideration of the minority-majority district requirements, although she strongly opposed the plan approved on Tuesday.