Once data from the 2020 Census becomes available, cities and towns will have the information they need to redraw council districts in accordance with population changes before their next election cycle. Ordinarily, Census data becomes available by April of the year following the Census, but that timing is less certain this year. COVID-19 disruptions in 2020 led to data collection lasting three months longer than usual, leading to delays in census processes since then.
The process of redistricting is a complex one. Redistricting should work to keep districts compact and logical, and preserve the general location of existing districts while trying to avoid splitting voting precincts.
Districts need to follow the principle of “one person, one vote,” which derives from the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. In practice, the principle means working to divide single-member council districts so that each district has the same number of residents in it, or as close to the same number as possible.
South Carolina law does not set a specific timeline for city and town councils to complete a redistricting effort, but they need to do so promptly and ahead of their next election. The responsibility for redistricting rests with the council, which must pass a redistricting ordinance complete with maps, district descriptions or both.
Councils working to redistrict often obtain assistance from the SC Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Office for mapping, calculations and even public hearings to help residents understand how and why districts are being redrawn. RFA is the official state contact with the U.S. Census Bureau, and it maintains official precinct maps. Some cities and towns engage private professional firms for redistricting, or handle the work internally with their own staff.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 has long played an important role for redistricting in South Carolina. Under the law, South Carolina and several other states were subject to administrative and judicial review of its redistricting. After the ruling in the 2013 U.S. Supreme Court case Shelby County v. Holder, South Carolina is no longer subject to Section 5 of the law, which required preclearance of redistricting.
Even so, South Carolina remains subject to Section 2 of the law. Unlike Section 5, Section 2 applies nationwide and was not intended as a temporary measure. Section 2 prohibits election practices that have the effect of discriminating against a racial minority or language minority.
Redistricting plans must meet numerous standards — equal protection under the 14th Amendment, voting rights under the 15th Amendment, and the portions of the Voting Rights Act that are in effect. Cities and towns need to take care when redrawing their districts to make certain their residents are receiving fair and evenly distributed representation.
Learn more about the mapping work of the SC Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Office at www.rfa.sc.gov.