PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — By the end of the year, South Dakota will have 35 new legislative districts.
Redrawing the new districts happens every 10 years following the decennial U.S. Census, as required by the South Dakota Constitution. The state’s constitution gives the power to create new districts to the legislature along with a deadline of Dec. 1 every 10 years. You can view the current districts in the photo above and online.
Senate president pro tem Lee Schoenbeck (R-Watertown) appointed Sen. Mary Duvall (R-Pierre) to chair the Senate Redistricting Committee. Duvall highlighted the state constitution, which calls for legislative districts that are of “compact, contiguous territory and shall have population as nearly equal as is practicable, based on the last preceding federal census.”
“In practice, we try to draw districts that are nice squares or recognizable shapes that don’t have gerrymandered lines all over,” Duvall told KELOLAND News.
The desired model for each district is the state’s population divided by 35, which according to the 2020 U.S. Census is 887,770 divided by 35.
“The ideal legislative district will have 25,365 people in it,” Duvall said. “That’s going to be our goal.”
Duvall said districts can go above and below 10% of the threshold of 25,365 people. It allows some districts to have populations as big as 27,901 or as small as 22,829. In 2011, the median number was 23,262.
COVID-19 has delayed U.S. Census data, which has delayed the redirecting process. Usually full census data would be available in April, but the U.S. Census Bureau has warned states to not expect county-by-county data until August.
“We will not have final data until September 30th, so that’ll create a time crunch for us,” Duvall said.
The complete census data will show which areas of South Dakota grew the most in the past decade. Duvall said she expects the northwest district will grow larger in geographically size.
“Urban areas get more people in them and get smaller,” Duvall said. “That’s just a function of where people live and the math.”
During the 2021 session, lawmakers passed SB 80, which added a line to the redistricting guidelines to follow and respect “geographical and political boundaries, specifically, counties, reservations, and municipalities.”
Duvall said subcommittees will be tasked with drawing dividing lines in bigger cities. Currently, Sioux Falls has nine districts and Rapid City has four. Duvall speculated its possible Sioux Falls could pick up another district or two, while Rapid City could add another.
“We won’t know until we actually see the census block data,” Duvall said.
Key dates for 2021 redistricting
June 1: Joint committee meeting — Redistricting Software demonstration.
Aug.-Sept.: More in depth 2020 U.S. Census data.
Oct. 11-15: Public listening sessions.
Nov. 8-9: Special legislative session.
Dec. 1: Deadline for redistricting, if not Supreme Court takes over
A ‘perilous process‘
Duvall said redistricting has been dubbed a “perilous process” by some lawmakers.
“I expect there is absolutely no way we can make everybody happy,” Duvall said. “We are going to do the best we can; follow constitutional law, state law and case law to make sure our districts are fair and our process is open.”
One South Dakota organization — Drawn Together SD — is aiming to take the power of redistricting away from the South Dakota Legislature. Instead of lawmakers drawing voting districts, a 9-member coalition — with no more than three members of one political party allowed — would be charged for drawing new maps every 10 years. The group is trying to get the measure on the 2022 ballot.
Duvall said if the proposed redistricting changes make it on the ballot, the people of South Dakota will then have to decide. Until then, she said lawmakers do a good job of following constitutional law, state law and case law.
“My goal is not to be unfair, but to make it a very open process, to make it a very fair process,” Duvall said. “I have never known that a redistricting commission is an improvement.”
All South Dakota lawmakers are up for election in 2022, which means legislators can start gathering signatures on Jan. 1 and lawmakers need to know what legislative district they are going to be in.
Duvall said two members — Rep. Mike Derby (R-Rapid City) and Sen. Jim Bolin (R-Canton) — have previous experience with redistricting committees. Derby helped in the process 20 years ago and Bolin helped 10 years ago.
Technology will also assist the redistricting process. In the past, Duvall said maps were drawn by hand. During the June 1 meeting, lawmakers will get a demonstration of the “AutoBound EDGE Software.”
Duvall said she believes the public will have some access to the map-drawing software to see how maps could be drawn. Anyone with a question or comment about the redistricting process should send an email to any lawmaker on the committee or attend any of the committee’s meetings.
All redistricting meetings are open to the public to attend in-person or to listen online. The committee will have a series of listening meetings for the week of Oct. 11, starting in Rapid City, Mission, Mobridge, Aberdeen, Watertown and Sioux Falls.
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