County Council receives proposed new Redistricting Plan

Bamberg County Council members’ gave first reading approval in title only to criteria required for a proposed ordinance to redraw County Council lines at their November 7, meeting Monday night. Bobby Bowers, who is the Director of the South Carolina Budget and Control Board-Office of Research, presented information to Council members on how the present Bamberg County Benchmark Plan differed from the proposed Bamberg County Plan 1.

Bower noted in his presentation in part that any plan approved by County Council must pass the constitutional requirement of “one person, one vote,” does not decrease minority representation, keeps all incumbents separated and must go before the Justice Department for pre-clearance.

District 2 Councilmember Alzena Robinson told Bowers that she had several concerns about the new district including; it took her district up to the City of Denmark and Highway 321. After some discussion with Bowers, Robinson noted “I can live with the district.”

District 6 Councilmember Evert Comer Jr. told Bowers he could not understand the difference in the old and new plan and asked Bowers the reason for the difference. Bowers informed Comer that he picked up some more constituents along Highway 321. District 1 Councilmember Chris Wilson noted that his district gets “shrunk each time.”

Bowers said the Justice Department will get the present Bamberg County Benchmark Plan and the Bamberg County Plan 1. He said all election results since 2001 must be sent to the Justice Department. County Council must have a third and final reading before the plan is submitted to the Justice Department. Bowers noted that the final plan must meet the criteria for the Voting Rights Act which he said “overshadows all other criteria.”

“The Justice Department is looking at retrogression,” Bowers said adding, “Packing and Cracking” of minorities in districts is what the Justice Department is looking for.

Bamberg County resident Sarah Noel wanted to know if the final decision on a redistricting plan would be made by Bamberg County Council or the Justice Department. She was informed that the Justice Department will make the final decision on the plan. Bamberg County Council will approve a plan to be submitted to the Department of Justice.

County Council adopted the following seven step criteria for developing a redistricting plan: Adhere to court ordered constitutional requirement of one person, one vote (a). County Councils must adhere to a state law of population variance under 10%; Adherence to the 1965 Voting Rights Act as amended and by controlling court decisions; Ensure that parts of the districts are contiguous; Respect Communities of Interest; Attempt to maintain constituent consistency; Avoid splitting voting precincts and Solicit public input. Construction of a Redistricting Plan includes: Construct Benchmark Plan; Locate incumbents; Copy Benchmark Plan and adjust blocks to adhere to 1965 Voting Rights Act; Hold public hearings; Pass plan at local level (3 readings County Council, 2 readings City Council); Submit to Justice Department and Receive pre-clearance letter and implement plan.