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