Redistricting: The future of the Legislative Black Caucus

Over the last two decades, a trend of growing assimilation of black South Carolinians into the state’s majority-white communities has gone hand-in-hand with the decline of the state’s rural population, as well as stagnant population growth in state’s inner-city urban areas, the two kinds of areas where the remainder of the state’s majority-black legislative districts are based. There are concerns that these demographic shifts could result in “retrogression” – a decline in the number of majority-minority electoral districts – which could result in a lawsuit blocking new legislative districts by the Justice Department, which has made the creation and protection of majority-minority districts a priority.

The practice of maximizing the number of districts where a majority of residents were from a racial minority group first saw widespread use in the 1990s, where it went hand-in-hand with a rapid increase in the number of minority legislators, as well as Republican legislators, in Southern states. This created a win-win for black and Republican legislators, but also saw the near-elimination of white Democratic legislators in many Southern states. In several Southern legislative chambers, white Democratic membership is counted in single digits.

This year’s data showed a changing population mosaic which will present major challenges for those who wish to maintain this status quo.

When the House released its population totals for the existing legislative districts, these trends were apparent, showing that almost every seat which had been drawn with a black population majority after the 2000 census was either more than ten percent under population or had turned into a majority-white district due to suburban growth.

Along the coast, all of the nine districts along the coast which were drawn as majority-black districts ten years ago are threatened. Seven districts (101, 103, 109, 111, 113, 121 & 122) were collectively just over twenty percent under population while the other two (101 & 116) have roughly  the required number of residents but now have white majorities. In the Upstate, it's about as bad, as the three majority-black urban House districts (Districts 23 and 25 in Greenville and 31 in Spartanburg) are collectively twenty percent short of the population needed to keep them intact.

Most of the other majority-black House districts are in a similar situation. Only three House districts which presently have a black population majority are not under population: District 49 in York County and Districts 77 and 80 in Richland County.

Ten years ago, the process of maximizing the number of majority-black districts meant few adjoining districts were left with any areas where the majority of residents are black. Along the coast, few noticeable pockets of majority-black populations remain outside of majority-black districts. Some such areas do exist in four GOP-held seats (Districts 108, 115, 117 & 124) where Republican incumbents wouldn't likely object to moving out thousands of heavily-Democratic voters. In majority-white Districts 97 and 119, where Democratic incumbents hang on in usually-close races, moving their black voters into adjacent majority-black districts would likely turn those seats to the GOP column. Several other swing districts around the state could be turned in a similar manner.

The alternative would be to wipe out a number of majority-black districts and move their voters into neighboring seats which are mostly held by Republicans. It’s hard to see Republicans choosing this course of action, as it could put several safe seats in play next year and risk Justice Department action, nor do we see the Black Caucus agreeing to moves which could reduce their numbers.

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