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Redistricting may rear its head again
By Andy Brack
S.C. Statehouse Report

JAN. 12, 2003 - - In the first two months of the legislative session that starts this week, there's a good chance the state Senate will go through the process of redrawing Senate district lines again.

Some may call it an incumbency-protection plan. Others may say it's a ploy to increase partisanship. Others may say it's an sincere attempt to decrease confusion at the polls.

But however you characterize it, tinkering with a redistricting plan approved last year by the federal court likely would have big ramifications in the General Assembly. For one thing, it would take time away from a lot of business faced this year by a cash-strapped legislature that will have a lot of other tough choices.

In December, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Glenn McConnell (R-Charleston) sent a memo to his Senate peers asking whether they wanted to fiddle with the March 2002 redistricting plan approved by a three-judge federal panel. The memo quoted a part of the plan's order, which said the General Assembly and governor could "work together and adopt any plan that could improve upon" the court's remapping.

Almost immediately, a few senators - - Republicans and Democrats - - grumbled quietly that the court plan split too many precincts or put too many people of other parties in their districts.

McConnell said he won't pursue redistricting unless a bipartisan super-majority of senators wants to alter the lines. He said Republicans fared pretty well under the court-written plan and could pick up as many as three seats in the 2004 elections, the first time the court's plan would be in effect for the Senate.

"It's not a question of control at this point," McConnell said. "But it is a question of straightening out the maps."

Rules that govern how courts do redistricting require judges to draw lines to create 46 districts that are as close to equal in numbers of people as possible. This "non-variance" rule causes judges to split precincts to create districts that are the same size. In 2002, the court's plan created 292 split Senate precincts out of 2,043 total precincts.

Voters who remember long lines on election day often blame split precincts for House, county council and other races for confusion at the polls. That's because poll workers have to act as air traffic controllers to direct voters to correct boxes for casting ballots.

McConnell and others say cleaning up district lines and consolidating precincts could lessen confusion at the polls. Rules for legislative bodies are more liberal and allow lawmakers to draw districts that have more variances in population that districts created by courts, the senator said.

S.C. Sen. Phil Leventis (D-Sumter) believes redistricting would be a waste of time and money in a state that doesn't have much of the latter this year.

"We're firing people in state government and we're going to spend the equivalent of 20 or 30 or 40 state jobs in redistricting expenses?" he asked. "There's only one reason to redistrict and that's for partisan political purposes."

McConnell said he wouldn't fool with redistricting unless two-thirds of the Senate, a bipartisan group of Republicans and Democrats, wanted it.

"There will be no redrawing in certain areas to go 'get' Democrats," he said.

S.C. Sen. Tom Moore (D-Aiken) said he might support a redistricting effort if it didn't become partisan, didn't cost lots of money and could be worked out behind-the-scenes without a lot of squawking on the Senate floor.

The premium justification for redrawing lines, he said, was to make it easier for people at the polls.

"I don't think it would be a pure incumbency-protection plan."

If the Senate redraws lines over the next two months, you can be sure of one spin-off impact: the House - - which added to its majority in November with a court-approved plan for its lines - - likely would tinker with district lines too.


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