SC House to redraw voting lines in five counties as part of lawsuit settlement

Published: May. 6, 2022 at 6:43 PM EDT|Updated: May. 6, 2022 at 8:36 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - With just three days left on the calendar in South Carolina’s legislative session, it will be a race to the finish to advance bills to the governor’s desk by the end of next week.

But the state’s House of Representatives now has another task on its to-do list: approving new voting lines to the map it passed months ago during the state’s redistricting process.

The redraw comes as an agreement to settle part of a lawsuit brought by the ACLU of South Carolina on behalf of the South Carolina State Conference of the NAACP against Speaker of the House Jay Lucas, R – Darlington, House Judiciary Committee Chair Chris Murphy, R – Dorchester, and House Redistricting Ad Hoc Committee Chair Jay Jordan, R – Florence.

The ACLU contended the House map was racially gerrymandered to the detriment of Black voters in some parts of the state.

“Black voters had either been packed into a single district or cracked into several different districts, and that had an effect on their ability to actually impact elections, such that their votes mattered less because they were packed into a single district or cracked into several different ones,” ACLU of South Carolina Legal Director Allen Chaney said.

The lawsuit argued this was the case in 29 of South Carolina’s 124 House districts.

As part of the settlement compromise reached Thursday, the House has agreed to redraw its lines in three areas around five counties: Richland, Kershaw, Orangeburg, Horry and Dillon.

“The House defendants have been willing to come to the table and try to accommodate some of the concerns that we had about the reapportionment plan that they passed,” Chaney said. “We’re really grateful for the opportunity to meet with them in the room and try to iron out a compromise solution that achieves a lot of what we were looking for in terms of restoring power to Black voters.”

Mark Moore, a partner at Nexsen Pruet law firm who represented the House in the lawsuit, called the decision “reasonable for voters.”

“Certainty in our voting process is one of the greatest virtues we have in South Carolina — and trust in that process is of crucial importance to our people,” Moore said in a statement. “With this settlement, we will end costly litigation with a decision that is reasonable for voters and allows voters to have confidence in the electoral process.”

Among the districts that would be substantially altered by the new lines is the one currently held by Democratic Rep. Jermaine Johnson in lower Richland County.

Johnson called the settlement “an amazing victory” for his community and constituents.

“I can’t explain how ecstatic I am about this because that means that we will be able to get the representation that we deserve,” he said. “We were kind of snubbed with the redistricting process, but it’s definitely going to right some wrongs.”

The new lines would go into effect beginning with the 2024 election.

As part of the agreement, the disputed map will be used for next month’s primaries and the general election this November, when every House seat is up for grabs.

That map drew incumbents of the same party into the same district in multiple instances.

Johnson is among them, running for re-election in the primary against fellow Democratic Rep. Wendy Brawley of Richland County. The settlement agreement would put them back into separate districts in 2024.

“The good thing about this is that all of us down here are related through some way, shape, or form, so we’re all family down here,” Johnson said. “So after June, we’ll go ahead and move forward as one unit and try to represent our community the best we can.”

The last day of this legislative session is next week Thursday, so the new lines would have to pass the House before then, then head over to the Senate for its consideration to send to Gov. Henry McMaster.

Traditionally, the respective chambers allow each other to handle their own maps in the redistricting process without amending them, as they often do for other bills.

The governor would have until May 17 to sign the new map into law, or else the parties could head to a trial. Neither the Senate nor McMaster are party to the agreement.

The ACLU is also suing over South Carolina’s new Congressional map, and the organization anticipates taking that to trial in September, according to Chaney.

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