Redistricting Likely in Charleston’s Future

April 20, 2011

Investigative Reports

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The NerveBy Marc Knapp
Citizen Reporter

 

Most of us expected it, and it was confirmed at the April 12 Charleston City Council workshop dealing with redistricting: following on the 2010 census, there likely will be major changes to some council voting districts.

Over the 10 years since the last census, there has been strong population growth in the city’s suburbs, in particular West Ashley and Johns Island. At the same time, the African-American proportion of the population in the districts on the Charleston Peninsula has declined.

The task before council is to redefine boundaries so that the population in each district is roughly similar. However, council cannot locate boundaries through census blocs, only around them and all census blocs in a district must be contiguous to another bloc in the district.

This latter requirement stands in the way of creating stronger African-American representation is some districts. For example there are a number of African-American communities in District 12 but to connect them to other African-American communities would not be possible without connecting a number of predominantly white communities.

Council is also tasked to create boundaries so that current council members are not displaced.

But the authors of the plans before council earlier this month clearly thought this was not possible.

There will be two more workshops before the final plan is decided. The final plan then must go to the Department of Justice for approval.

Bobby Bowers the Office of Research and Statistics (S.C. Budget and Control Board) told council that most likely the DOJ would go for the plan with the lowest deviation, i.e. the percentage difference between the theoretical average population of each district (2010 population divided by 12 districts) and the sum of the percentage variances of each redefined district from the theoretical average.

The three plans submitted last night have variances of between 2.71 percent and 2.84 percent. 

The presentation given by staff and which incorporated the plan by the Office of Research and Statistics, and plans A and B prepared by city staff can be seen by pressing here.

We would make the simple observation. There are five districts where population growth has been strong and the size needs to shrink. The districts and the theoretical population shrinkage numbers are:

  • District 1 Council member White: -4,388
  • District 2 Council member Hallman: -1,977
  • District 10 Council member Riegel: -2,889
  • District 11 Council member Mallard: -3,781
  • District 12 Council member Wilson: -339

All the other districts need to be expanded or coalesced with another. These districts and the theoretical increase in population needed to bring each to the average are:

  • District 3 Council member Lewis: +2,368
  • District 4 Council member Mitchell: +538
  • District 5 Council member Gallant: +2,257
  • District 6 Council member Gregorie: +2,214
  • District 7 Council member Waring: +1,341
  • District 8 Council member Seekings: +1,435
  • District 9 Council member Alexander: +3,222

To a large extent, the three plans submitted last night attempt to redistribute the surplus of the five districts noted above into the seven districts which need to be expanded. But to also preserve as much as possible the majority representation of African-Americans, all of the plans call for the merging of two or three districts.

There will probably be other plans submitted at the two future workshops. We expect that the African-American members of council will make an effort to preserve their seats. Under the plans reviewed last night, African-American as a bloc would have a much weakened position than that at present.

But given the census numbers, and the rules relating to redistricting, some weakening seems inevitable.