No matter what US Supreme Court decides, more voters must turn out in SC elections
Voting in primaries especially important because legislators drew voting lines to benefit incumbents of both parties
Brittney Culbreath watches after depositing a printed ballot into a machine at Dreher High School on June 9, 2020, in Columbia. (File/Sean Rayford/Getty Images)
In 2022, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF), assisted by the ACLU, proved before a three-judge federal panel in Charleston that in redrawing South Carolina’s congressional map about 30,000 Black voters were systematically removed from Congressional District 1 (represented by GOP Rep. Nancy Mace) and placed in Congressional District 6 (represented by Democrat Rep. Jim Clyburn).
On Jan. 6, 2023, that panel ruled the South Carolina General Assembly’s plan violates the 14th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution because race was used as a tool to produce a map that strongly favors one party.
Legislative leaders have admitted that tilting outcomes heavily toward their own party was their goal. They have not admitted that they used race to do so. The state has appealed the lower court’s decision to the Supreme Court.
The League of Women Voters of South Carolina provided an amicus brief in support of the NAACP in this case, now designated Alexander v. NAACP (Supreme Court of the United States, Docket 22-807). Oral arguments were heard on Oct. 11, and we are waiting for a decision that may come as early as January, either confirming the lower court ruling and requiring drawing a new less-biased map or permitting use of the General Assembly’s plan.
This should not be happening as it is. The intention of our nation’s Founding Fathers is apparent in the Constitution.
They established the Census to ensure that voters are fairly represented, even as population shifts. They named one body of our Congress the House of Representatives because they intended that it should accurately represent the people (or at least the segment of the people who voted then).
Unfortunately, despite this compelling evidence of the founders’ intentions, in 2019 the Supreme Court decided in Rucho v. Common Cause that they would not address redistricting distortions based on manipulation of partisan political data and that only racial issues would be decided by federal courts. Rucho was surely wrongly decided, but it is nevertheless the legal environment in which decisions are now made.
As important as the District 1 case is, the issues are far larger than this one example.
Most of South Carolina’s legislative districts are heavily weighted to one party. This is true of our six other congressional districts. Further, only about eight out of 124 South Carolina House districts are expected to be competitive in November. Sometimes this is a result of population distributions that cause local dominance of a party. But very often it arises from intentional manipulation of district boundaries to favor incumbents and parties. This is gerrymandering and both major political parties do it when they can.
The South Carolina House of Representatives map is especially heavily gerrymandered. As a consequence, the actions of that body often fail to represent the wishes of the majority of South Carolinians. For example, statewide polls have repeatedly shown that most people in our state do not want laws that would force all of us to abide by the religious beliefs of a minority. Nevertheless, that is what we are getting.
How does this happen? Because of these heavily weighted districts, most elections in South Carolina are decided in the primaries.
At present a very small percentage of voters turn out for these elections, usually less than 20%. Under these conditions, small groups can elect candidates who will shape government to reflect their preferences. Unfortunately, our most extreme fellow citizens tend to be among our most highly motivated. They vote in every election.
Instead of allowing them to decide how we are governed, we must all vote in the primaries.
Further, voters must recognize that all elections matter. City councils, school boards, and county councils determine everything from the quality of local roads to the quality and content of education of our children.
Some of these districts may be gerrymandered as well. Whether they are or not, we ignore them at our peril. The outcomes affect us every day of our lives.
And so, if the Supreme Court upholds the lower court decision, we might see more competitive general elections in District 1. Voters in that district might see mainstream ideas centered in campaigns and could cast a meaningful vote in November.
But regardless of that outcome, all of us must show up in every election in numbers that are large enough to accurately represent the people of South Carolina. We must do that despite the formidable obstacles that have been placed in our way.
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