S.D. panels say public can’t use Legislature’s redistricting software

Capitol News Bureau

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — The committees drawing boundaries for South Dakota’s legislative election districts decided Monday the public can’t use the Legislature’s taxpayer-funded software.

The House and Senate panels voted 10-3 that the software should be available only to the committees’ members and the Legislative Research Council staff.

The concern was that the public would offer too many ideas for the LRC to handle before the November 8 special session.

Representative Drew Dennert spoke on behalf of others who served with him on the panels’ joint subcommittee on technology.

“We thought it would be best for this committee to have access to that software, and then as we work through it to hopefully with our LRC staff to get some other options for individuals of the public who like to draw maps, and then have a way for individuals to submit maps and send them to us. But as far as the actual software we’re using today, we’d like for us to just keep that open to the 15 of us who are on this committee,” Dennert said.

Representative Bethany Soye added that the decision was based on “the limited staffing resources” and the tight time. Soye said the public could still give input using methods identified by Dennert.

Several committee members suggested that citizens could instead use publicly available apps.

After the vote, Representative Jon Hansen said members should “keep an open mind” about letting other legislators use the Legislature’s software too. Senator Casey Crabtree echoed Hansen’s comments. Both voted for Dennert’s motion. The ‘no’ votes came Representative Ryan Cwach, Senator Mike Diedrich and Senator Kyle Schoenfish.

The Legislature draws the lines every 10 years after the U.S. Census Bureau census released its population counts. South Dakota’s official population in 2020 was 886,667.

Changes ordered by the previous administration of U.S. President Donald Trump, coupled with the coronavirus pandemic, left the bureau unable to issue state by state results until earlier this month.

Senator Jim Bolin took part in the 2010 redistricting and is on the Senate committee this year. He said Monday that legislators had seven months in 2010 versus less than three months this year.

The committees voted 13-1 Monday to work within a margin of 5% plus or minus of the target population of 25,333. That means the range could be as few as 24,066 and as many as 26,600.

The lawmakers saw proposals from LRC staff for four legislative districts covering Rapid City and 10 districts for Sioux Falls.

For Sioux Falls, the committees considered the Split Rock Creek map. Soye and Hansen said a similar layout was used in 2010. Bolin said it maintains the growing cities of Harrisburg, Tea and Lennox as well.

But Crabtree countered that the committees should instead wait and “hear from folks who live around there.” Diedrich agreed with Crabtree, saying the proposals only came out Monday.

Representative Mike Derby said the discussion should be deferred to the next meeting September 9. Senator Mary Duvall said she would like more public input too. Derby’s idea was rejected by House members 3-5, while the Senate supported it 5-1.

The Split Rock Creek map failed too. The House voted 5-3 for it, but the Senate voted 5-1 against. The committee then decided to hold further discussion September 9 on a 14-0 vote.

The committees plan to conduct field hearings October 11-13 in various South Dakota communities. Bolin urged a House-Senate subcommittee to hold extra hearings in Native American reservation areas.

During public testimony, Great Plains Tribal Chairmen’s Association finance officer Kellen Returns From Scout told the panels they should hold hearings on all nine of the reservations within South Dakota.

The timetable for future meetings:

September 9 — Select the Rapid City and Sioux Falls maps.

September 30 — Finalize the overall draft map.

October 11-30 — Communities tour, starting in Rapid City and ending in Sioux Falls.

October 25 — Adopt final version of map and communicate to rest of the 105 legislators.

November 8 — Special legislative session.

December 1 is the constitutional deadline for the Legislature to complete the redistricting process.

“I think we’re going to have a super-busy fall,” chair Duvall said. “But we all volunteered for this.”

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