S.D. legislative districts serving tribal regions must expand to cover more area, panels decide

Capitol News Bureau

Current legislative districts. Photo courtesy South Dakota News Watch

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The House and Senate committees working on redistricting South Dakota for legislative elections during the next decade rejected an attempt Thursday to keep three of the 35 districts the same.

Earlier in the week, tribal leaders told a subcommittee they wanted districts 26, 27 and 28 in central and western South Dakota to continue along their present boundaries.

The districts currently include most or all of the Pine Ridge, Rosebud, Cheyenne River, Standing Rock, Lower Brule and Crow Creek Indian reservations.

But when Senate Democrat leader Troy Heinert tried to honor that request Thursday, he received only one aye, from Representative Ryan Cwach, in support. The 13 Republicans voted no.

The 2020 populations in all three districts fell well below the 25,333 target and outside the 5% margin of deviation the committees had set.

Tribal officials have argued the U.S. Census undercounted in their areas last year.

The Senate panel’s chair, Mary Duvall, said District 26 was more than 8% below, District 27 nearly 12% below and District 28 approximately 5.7% below.

That means people from neighboring areas would need to be added to them.

“The part that gives me pause is especially District 27,” Representative Bethany Soye said.

Heinert, a Rosebud Sioux member, lives in 26. He is term-limited in the Senate and has indicated he’s unlikely to run for a House seat next year. His two-time challenger, Republican Joel Koskan, was in the audience Thursday.

What happens with the map for next year’s elections could affect the overall balance of power in the Legislature. There currently are 94 Republicans and 11 Democrats.

Five of the nine lawmakers from the three districts are Democrats.

The committees will offer separate maps of Sioux Falls when they cross the state in October for public meetings. Senators proposed one from Casey Crabtree, while representatives will offer one from Drew Dennert. Those will be posted later on the committees’ web sites.

Crabtree’s map for Sioux Falls districts was accepted by the Senate committee over a map that Senator Jim Bolin proposed.

“So I don’t think we should go back and make the same mistake we did ten years ago,” Crabtree said.

Bolin said Sioux Falls would potentially have more districts and potentially more legislative clout with his map.

“The one that I’m advocating was for seven. His is only going to guarantee Sioux Falls six. I’ll leave it at that,” Bolin said.

Dennert’s map would follow the current boundaries of Sioux Falls and reflect a different split that many city and Minnehaha County residents told a subcommittee they want.

“Let’s separate urban and rural. That doesn’t mean let’s go three miles from the city line and then separate urban and rural. Let’s separate urban and rural,” Dennert said.

The Senate also will offer a statewide map from Crabtree for public review that will be posted later. House Republican leader Kent Peterson, House Speaker Spencer Gosch and Representative Liz May raised questions about the process, including why their identical official agendas didn’t call for discussion of a statewide map.

The House committee adjourned at 3:55 p.m. CT and left. The Senate committee stayed and set the four districts — 32, 33, 34 and 35 — for Rapid City. That map will be posted later.

The panels have a series of community meetings at six locations across South Dakota October 11-13. They’ll meet again October 18 and finalize their proposal October 25. The Legislature meets in special session November 8 to consider the final plan.

The Sioux Falls meetings October 13 will be at the Community College for Sioux Falls, not Southeast Technical Institute, a legislative staff member said Thursday.

People seeking more information about the redistricting process can go to sdlegislature.gov. There’s a button for a redistricting page, while the House and Senate redistricting committees can be found by clicking the interim button.

The committees so far have agreed on keeping Lawrence County as a stand-alone district and making Meade County a single district with the exception of a sliver that will be part of the Rapid City-area districts.

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