Partisan primary elections scheduled for this spring in South Carolina could be bumped into mid- to late-summer depending on the outcome of a lawsuit filed against the Palmetto State’s “Republican” leaders over the issue of redistricting (a.k.a. the once-a-decade redrawing of the state’s political boundaries).
The lawsuit (.pdf) – filed in U.S. district court in late December by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) – accused governor Henry McMaster and state legislative leaders of “racial gerrymandering and intentional vote dilution in certain state House districts,” actions which the organization claims “continue South Carolina’s shameful history and ongoing record of discrimination.”
For those of you unhip to the term, “gerrymandering” derives its name from former U.S. vice president Elbridge Gerry – who as governor of Massachusetts signed a bill in 1812 that redrew the state’s Senate districts. A famous political cartoon at the time depicted one of the contorted districts in the Boston area as a giant lizard, which soon became known as a “Gerrymander.”
The term stuck …
“The Legislature (used) race as the predominant factor in creating certain state House districts without a legally acceptable justification and having a discriminatory purpose in packing and cracking Black voters to dilute their vote,” the complaint alleged.
Wait a minute … I am confused.
The last time I checked, the lead architect of this “racial gerrymandering” and “flawed and nontransparent process” was none other than U.S. majority whip Jim Clyburn. As I reported in 2019, Clyburn has played a huge role in keeping South Carolina’s congressional districts anti-competitive … although the mainstream media continues to give him a hall pass on this front.
Clyburn isn’t the only one playing politics with electoral maps, though …
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Two months ago, I reported exclusively on a pair of “Republican” districts in the South Carolina Upstate which appear to have been redrawn as part of a deliberate effort by GOP incumbents to “carve out their former primary rivals – thus protecting them from future electoral challenges.”
More broadly, I have editorialized for years about the chronic failure of state lawmakers – both Democrats and “Republicans” – to draw maps faithfully representing communities on the basis of population growth and migration.
“Republicans and Democrats in South Carolina continue to draw legislative districts that insulate incumbents – denying voters real choices at the ballot box,” I wrote in a 2018 column. “Not surprisingly, this lack of choice leads to a lack of accountability – which leads to a lack of progress on a host of fronts.”
“Elections … are foregone conclusions,” I added in a column published earlier this year. “There are no real choices because no one challenges the incumbents.”
And both parties are to blame …
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Elections for the 124-seat South Carolina House of Representatives – and for the Palmetto State’s seven seats in the U.S. Congress – are held every two years. Elections for South Carolina’s seven statewide offices – and for the 46-member S.C. Senate – are held every four years.
Statewide offices (including governor, attorney general and superintendent of education) are up for reelection in 2022, while senators are not on the ballot again until 2024.
The current election schedule calls for candidates to file their paperwork during the last two weeks of March. Primary elections would then be held on June 14, 2022 with runoffs set for two weeks later on June 28, 2022 (in South Carolina, if no candidate receives more than fifty percent of the ballots in a primary race, a runoff election is held two weeks later between the top two vote-getters).
Will the lawsuit impact the timing of these races? Yes, multiple sources familiar with the process have told this news outlet.
“Strong possibility,” one legislative leader told me this week.
“I would say it is a certainty,” another said.
Another source familiar with the status of the lawsuit said they anticipated a delay of “up to two months.”
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If accurate, that could push South Carolina’s partisan primary elections into August, dramatically compressing the period of time prior to the November 8, 2022 general election.
Typically, disputes over political borders would have been resolved by now, but the U.S. Census Bureau was late in delivering its population data last year – which in turn delayed the redrawing of the maps. Nonetheless, the NAACP lawsuit blasted lawmakers for their “inaction” following the receipt of the latest census data.
Whomever bears the blame, candidate filing would be the first date impacted by any delay – as state and local election officials would have to wait to process paperwork for incumbents and challengers until they were absolutely sure the current/ aspiring officeholders reside in the districts they are seeking.
Unfortunately, as a party to the pending NAACP lawsuit, Knapp was unable to offer any insights as to how it might ultimately be resolved.
“I can’t comment on any issues related to pending legislation,” Knapp told me.
Stay tuned … this news outlet will be sure to update readers as soon as there is a disposition to this case (and a new election schedule).
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven children. And yes, he has LOTS of hats (including that Chicago Blackhawks’ lid pictured above).
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