Organization targets gerrymandering in South Dakota, aims to ‘give power back to the people’

KELOLAND.com Original

Legislative District Maps from the South Dakota Legislative Research Council.

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Every 10 years the people are counted in the United States Census. 

And every 10 years, the South Dakota Constitution demands legislative districts are created and consist of “compact, contiguous territory and shall have population as nearly equal as is practicable, based on the last preceding federal census.” The state’s constitution also gives the power of creating these districts to the legislature as well as a deadline — by Dec. 1 every 10 years from Dec. 1, 1991. 

One South Dakota organization is aiming to change that process and stop gerrymandering at the state level. The League of Women Voters, who call themselves “a nonpartisan political organization encouraging informed and active participation in government,” is aiming to “pass an Independent Citizen Redistricting Commission in the state of South Dakota.” 

Under the umbrella of Drawn Together SD, the League of Women Voters has drawn support from 18 other South Dakota organizations aiming to take the power of redistricting away from the South Dakota Legislature.  

Amy Scott-Stoltz, the President of South Dakota League of Women Voters, said nationally the League of Women Voters has taken interest in the issue of gerrymandered districts. 

“If you gerrymander the lines, you’re really taking away the impact of voters’ votes. We want peoples’ votes to count,” Scott-Stoltz said. “In South Dakota our motto is ‘Under God the People Rule.’ What we’re doing with the petition is taking the power away from politicians and putting back in the hands of people.” 

Scott-Stoltz said not a lot of people pay attention to the procedure part of the government. She pointed out in 2010, when districts were last redrawn, the breakdown by registered voters would be roughly 85-15. In 85 of the 105 districts for both House and Senate, districts were created where registered Republicans outnumbered registered Democrats. In 2020, that’s exactly how the state legislature broke down 85 Republican legislators and 15 Democratic legislators. 

Scott-Stoltz said voting data on the statewide governor’s race since the 1950s shows the difference between the Republican candidate and the Democratic candidate has been 60-40. That made her look closer at the redistricting process in South Dakota. 

“There’s something going on here,” Scott-Stoltz said. “If it is done correctly, it should reflect how people vote in statewide races — so closer to a 60-40 split.” 

SD legislature is 90% Republican, republicans make up 48% of registered voters

In 2021, the difference is 94-11 and KELOLAND’s Dan Santella spoke with democratic legislators about being in such a small minority in an Eye on KELOLAND. 

House minority leader Rep. Jamie Smith (D-Sioux Falls) told KELOLAND News democratic lawmakers ask themselves all the time what it takes to become more electable in local races. 

“We can’t do it all on our own and part of it comes to redistricting,” Smith said, pointing to gerrymandering with the use of computer models. “You can draw districts now with the precision of a computer model and figure out how to win districts. We saw it all across the country in 2010 and it hit hard. It hit South Dakota really hard.” 

Smith said there’s plenty of internal issues with getting democratic candidates to run for state office, but he added having a fair playing field is “imperative.”  

The legislature is about 90% Republican, as of February 1st, only 48% of active registered voters in the state were Republican.

Sen. Reynold Nesiba (D-Sioux Falls) said voters would be better served if the redistricting process was out of lawmakers’ hands. 

“The citizens of South Dakota should be electing who their representatives are. It shouldn’t be the other way around,” Nesiba said. “It shouldn’t be representatives deciding which areas they are going to represent.” 

One example of 2010 redistricting ties more urban voters with more rural voters, Smith said.   

In Minnehaha County, eight districts are divided differently including District 25, which is separated to include part of eastern Sioux Falls along with Colton, the rest of the far northwestern part of the county. You can view the Legislative District Maps online from the South Dakota Legislative Research Council website.

A look at legislative districts in Minnehaha County.

Drawn Together’s solution 

Through the Drawn Together SD organization, Scott-Stoltz said the goal is to get the redistricting issue on the 2022 ballot. Changing the redistricting process requires amending the state’ constitution. To do that, the organization needs a petition that “must have signatures of registered voters equal to ten percent (33,921) of the total vote for governor in the last gubernatorial election and must be filed in the Secretary of State’s office one year before the general election.”

“The process is pretty long,” Scott-Stoltz said. “We’re encouraging organizations to join us. We’re trying to educate people across the state about what this means and why this is important for our state.” 

Despite not getting the issue on the ballot until 2022, Scott-Stoltz encouraged people to pay attention to this year’s redistricting committee and look closely at the process that will be completed by December. 

“See how your local district is drawn and see if that makes sense,” Scott-Stoltz said. 

Instead of lawmakers drawing voting districts, a 9-member coalition with no more than three members of one political party allowed. 

“The idea would be that it is independent,” Scott-Stoltz said. “There would be no political party with a majority on that committee.”

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