Redistricting is the most important thing no one cares about.
Redistricting – the redrawing of political boundaries that by law must occur every 10 years after the Census – isn’t the easiest thing to engage people on. It’s complicated, it’s bureaucratic, and it’s certainly not sexy.
But it’s the best chance we have at making sure everyone in South Carolina at least has a shot at having people in elected office who reflect the interests and concerns of their community. This often breaks down by race, as for years the federal Voting Rights Act kept South Carolina and other states with a history of racial discrimination under strict oversight, but a community of interest (as it is called) could also be something as simple as a neighborhood.
While the Voting Rights Act has lost some of its teeth in the past decade, courts can still rule legislative maps unconstitutional, which is playing out now with South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District.
Redistricting also affects things on the local level. SIREN, the West Spartanburg Branch of the NAACP, the Upstate Action Alliance and our partners through the grassroots Local Redistricting Advisory Committee (LRAC) have been engaged in redistricting conversations at the county, city and school board level since the Census was complete.
Two years ago, we began focusing on Spartanburg School District 7 after looking at the current map and realizing that it creates an unequal distribution of power.
District 7 has nine seats. The four seats in predominantly Black neighborhoods are single-member seats, which means the top vote-getter is elected every four years. But the rest of the district is a large, predominantly white multi-member district, which means multiple people run and, for instance, if two seats are open, then the top two candidates win office.
The end result of this is that multiple school board members east of Pine Street live in practically the same neighborhood – which means there are entire other neighborhoods left without a local school board member. It sometimes contributes to 5-4 votes down racial lines on key issues confronting the school board.
Further complicating the matter: While City Council approves City Council maps and County Council approves County Council maps, the state Legislature, usually at the recommendation of a local senator or representative, is the body that approves school board maps.
SIREN and our partners produced four possible single-member maps for District 7 over the past year. We presented this information to legislators and, as a courtesy, the District 7 school board.
Sen. Shane Martin, who at the time was chairman of the Spartanburg County Legislative Delegation, had legislative staff draw two maps for District 7 – one that keeps the current single/multi-member configuration but tweaks political boundaries based on population changes, and another that divides District 7 into nine single-member seats.
Legislative staffer Will Roberts presented these maps to the District 7 school board in January. The school board was unwilling to publicly endorse one map over the other.
A similar process is playing out in Spartanburg School District 5, thanks to the efforts of the West Spartanburg NAACP. Roberts, too, produced a single-member map for District 5.
A single-member approach is the most equitable and just distribution of power. The Beaumont Neighborhood is a prime example. In Will Robert’s single-member District 7 map, you can plainly see that the Beaumont community does not have a school board member. Adopting a single-member map would correct this. If you live in Beaumont, you are literally paying taxes without a fair shot at having local representation on the District 7 school board.
SIREN believes that single-member maps will allow for more diverse representation of neighborhoods on the District 7 school board, which will lead to better public policy and better discussion about issues facing residents and taxpayers of District 7. If you have an issue that needs to be addressed by the school board, would you feel more comfortable reaching out to a board member in your own neighborhood – someone who likely shares in, or at least better understands your concerns – or would you rather call someone on the other side of town?
Unfortunately, this week, state Rep. Max Hyde – the current chairman of the Spartanburg County Legislative Delegation – introduced bills that would maintain the status quo, keeping the current mix of single- and multi-member districts in D5 and D7.
Thanks to state Rep. Rosalyn Henderson-Myers, a public input session on this matter will be held at 6 p.m. Tuesday, April 4, at the Dr. T.K. Gregg Center on Howard Street in Spartanburg.
We ask that you come out Tuesday and tell legislators that you support Will Roberts’ single-member maps for School Districts 5 and 7. You can also call Hyde at 864-582-1742 and let him know directly.
Any redistricting bill would have to be approved by the House and Senate, so you can also call Martin at 864-804-8499.
This decision will affect who gets to serve on these school boards for the next 10 years – today’s second-graders will be high school seniors. That’s a long time to preserve inequity – and it’s especially disheartening that it is coming from a lawmaker who is supposed to represent a city that has embraced equity.
The current setup in Districts 5 and 7 was established in 1993. It’s been 30 years. We can do better.