South Dakota House, Senate At Odds Over Redistricting Maps

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — Committees in the South Dakota House and Senate approved different legislative district maps on Monday, showing a schism among Republicans who lead each chamber over how to draw the political boundaries the state will use for the next decade.

Republicans, who dominate both committees, started the redistricting process by meeting as a single body. But a split emerged between establishment Republicans who dominate the Senate and a band of more socially conservative GOP House members. As the two committees finalized their respective proposals Monday, they split into two rooms and approved separate proposals to take to a special session on Nov. 8.

The House approved a map that would keep the current legislative districts mostly intact, while the Senate’s proposal would likely pit some current lawmakers against one another in newly drawn districts. Proponents of the House map say it received positive feedback at public input sessions, but senators argue that their proposal would account for the state's population shifts over the last decade.

“Unfortunately, South Dakota’s population has changed in that time, so we do have to accept the fact that our districts are going to have to change,” said Republican Sen. Mary Duvall, who chaired the Senate committee.

Negotiations on the map proposals will continue over the coming weeks and into the legislative session, as lawmakers try to iron out several key sticking points. One of the most significant is ensuring representation for Native American voters. Federal law requires that racial minorities receive adequate representation in legislative boundaries.

In the past, South Dakota has run into trouble for diluting the representation of Native American voters — a federal judge found that the Legislature broke the federal law during redistricting in 2001.

This year, tribal leaders and advocates for Native American voters have told lawmakers they believe the U.S. Census Bureau undercounted the population on several American Indian reservations. Lawmakers have previously insisted that they are bound to use the census numbers, but on Thursday, they acknowledged the tribes' concerns.

The Senate committee allowed two districts that cover American Indian reservations to contain a smaller census population than was previously allowed.

Republican Sen. Helene Duhamel called the change “a good faith effort to be a little bit more fair," given the concerns about a census undercount during the pandemic.

The House on Friday will consider incorporating a similar proposal from Republican Rep. Mike Derby. He has also proposed map changes to an area in northern Rapid City where many Native American people live. His map would ensure that the area falls into a single legislative district.

Advocates for Native American communities have consistently pointed to that area as an example of how Native American voters in some areas are not able to gain representation in the Legislature.

“The current boundaries do not set our community up for adequate and equitable representation,” Sunny Red Bear, the director of racial equity at Rapid City-based NDN Collective, told senators.

Meanwhile, lawmakers expect a long day of negotiations on Nov. 8.

Duvall, who will present the Senate proposal to her colleagues, suggested that the session could run into the next day. If lawmakers can't reach an agreement by Dec. 1, the state Supreme Court would be tasked with drawing the final map.