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SC House releases another congressional map proposal

South Carolina House members look to see if there are enough votes to table an amendment during a redistricting debate on Thursday, Dec. 2, 2021, in Columbia, S.C. The House overwhelmingly approved its new district lines. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
Jeffrey Collins/AP
FILE - South Carolina House members look to see if there are enough votes to table an amendment during a redistricting debate on Thursday, Dec. 2, 2021, in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)

South Carolina lawmakers heard public testimony Wednesday over a proposal to redraw the state's U.S. House districts that scales back the sweeping changes suggested in an earlier map.

The South Carolina House released the new proposal for the state's seven districts last week.

The 2020 U.S. Census saw more than 500,000 people added to the state. But that growth was uneven, as people flocked to coastal areas and rural areas saw populations drop, so lawmakers now have to retool district boundaries.

The House's suggested map doesn't significantly redraw the boundaries of the state's existing districts and resembles a proposal put forth by a Senate committee last month. Early analysis shows the state would likely continue to elect six Republicans and one Democrat to the U.S. House with those districts.

But the map is a marked departure from the House's initial proposal, released earlier this month. That first map extended Republican Rep. Joe Wilson's inland 2nd District east to encompass coastal Beaufort County and shifted boundaries for several other districts. Those changes would ultimately make the coastal 1st District more competitive between Democrats and Republicans.

House Redistricting Committee Chairman Jay Jordan said Wednesday that both suggested House maps are still in consideration. Jordan said committee staff drew the second map after people giving public input over the first map expressed concerns that Beaufort County had been separated from other coastal communities.

Democrats have opposed both the Senate map and its similar House counterpart that would put more likely Republican voters into the 1st District — the only one in South Carolina where a Democrat has flipped a seat from Republicans since 1986.

"There is no ambiguity surrounding this map's clear objective: to make it impossible for a Democrat to win any congressional seats outside of the 6th District," said Joe Cunningham, the Democrat who flipped the 1st District seat in 2018 before losing it to Republican Nancy Mace in 2020, in written testimony to the House committee.

The 6th District is currently represented by the delegation's lone Democrat, U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, and is the state's only majority-minority district. Under the new House proposal, it trades some areas with the 1st District.

That change would divide parts of Charleston County and the city of Charleston, said Lynn Teague with the the League of Women Voters of South Carolina. The ultimate effect would be to put more white residents in the surrounding Charleston areas to "dominate" the 1st District, she said.

Teague said the new House proposal also splits up Black communities in other parts of the state, including Richland County. It also makes more sense to draw a map to keep the cities of North Charleston and Charleston together over Beaufort and Charleston, Teague said, noting the first two share more economic and social interests than the latter two.

"We believe that it is an obvious racial and partisan gerrymander and should be rejected," Teague said of the new map.

The committee didn't vote on either map Wednesday. Jordan said the committee plans to send a proposal to the full House sometime in the next two weeks.

"We have been criticized both for taking too long and also for moving too fast," Jordan said. "But I again remind everyone this is a monumental task, and that we have been diligent and careful to get this right."

The Senate has yet to approve its congressional map. Lawmakers from both chambers still have to get together to hash out what the districts will eventually look like, and those boundaries must also withstand any legal challenges.

Two civil rights groups have already sued the state, saying lawmakers are taking too long to approve the U.S. House maps. The groups want a court to set a Feb. 15 deadline for the U.S. House maps to be finished.