COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The process to draw new districts for South Carolina House and Senate seats as well as the U.S. House kicked off Tuesday with senators hopeful the whirlwind of map drawing, negotiations, public hearings and final vote will take less than four months.
The Senate's redistricting subcommittee agreed Tuesday at its first meeting to hold 10 public hearings across the state starting next week and ending before the final U.S. census data on where the 5.1 million people in South Carolina live is released Aug. 16.
The districts are drawn every 10 years after the federal government completes it nationwide count. The goal of the high stakes process is to make sure all 46 of the state's Senate districts and 124 House districts have roughly the same number of people, give or take a few thousand.
But it's more than a simple matter of arithmetic and drawing lines. In the past several maps — including 2000 and 2010 after Republicans gained control of the General Assembly — lawmakers have emphasized political goals like protecting incumbents or creating several districts where African Americans are the majority, which also means a number of districts where the white population is greater.
“I'm like one of those plants who bloom every 10 years," said Columbia attorney Charlie Terreni, who will help the Senate with redistricting like he has the past two decades.
The House will have its own subcommittee expected to start meeting next month.
The seven-member subcommittee with four Republicans and three Democrats agreed Tuesday to set up a website where the census data and proposed maps will be shared along with information on public hearings before the data is released.
Officials working with the Senate said it will take them three to four days to get the data from the U.S. Census Bureau and into a form where it can be easily mapped on computers.
After that, the Senate will work on its map and the House on its version. The two chambers typically don't alter the maps done by the other chamber. They will work together on the U.S. House map.
South Carolina added nearly 500,000 people from 2010 to 2020, but the 10.7% growth rate was not enough to add another U.S. House seat, keeping the state at seven.
The heaviest growth in the state appears to be along the coast, especially near Myrtle Beach, and just south of Charlotte, North Carolina, in Lancaster and York counties. Those areas will likely get extra districts, while the districts that cover more rural areas will continue to grow in size because of the population shifts.
The goal is to finish and have maps ready for the whole General Assembly to vote on them in October. That gives time for courts to hear the inevitable legal challenges and be ready when candidates for 2022 South Carolina House and U.S. House races need to file in March.
“We hope to make a wonderfully smooth process smoother," said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Luke Rankin, the Myrtle Beach Republican who is also running the subcommittee.
Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP.