Aberdeen City Council Expresses Support for Independent Redistricting Commission

Elisa Sand tweets that the Aberdeen City Council voted last night to express its opposition to the gerrymandering practiced by the South Dakota Legislature and its support for an independent, nonpartisan redistricting commission. The text from last night’s agenda packet is below:

Resolution 15-09-07R, approved by Aberdeen City Council, 2015.09.14.
Resolution 15-09-07R, approved by Aberdeen City Council, 2015.09.14.

There just happens to be a ballot measure circulating to end gerrymandering by creating and independent redistricting commission. Mark Remily, the city councilor who brought the resolution to the floor, just happens to be the campaign coordinator for that ballot measure. The resolution is not a direct endorsement of the ballot measure itself, so technically the resolution does not violate SDCL 12-27-20, which says we can’t spend public funds “for the petitioning of a ballot question on the ballot or the adoption or defeat of any ballot question.”

Aberdeen is one of only three cities in South Dakota exceeds the legally prescribed population of a legislative district. Under Article 3 Section 5 of the state constitution, the Legislature must draw our Legislative districts to have practically equal populations. South Dakota’s official 2010 population of 814,180 divided by 35 districts gives us 23,262 people per district. Aberdeen’s official population was 26,091. The Legislature thus had to shave not quite 3,000 people out of Aberdeen and place them in a different district with surrounding rural areas. In 2011, the Legislature met that requirement with this gerrymander:

Aberdeen, as gerrymandered between District 2 and District 3, 2011.
Aberdeen, as gerrymandered between District 2 and District 3, 2011.

Look at the southwest corner of Aberdeen. Instead of drawing a straight line down 5th Street, the Legislature stretched District 2 east toward Main Street north of 12th Avenue, then stretched District 3 west to 9th Street right below that. They stretched northeast to ensure that the houses around the Moccasin Creek Country Club make it into District 3. And instead of trying to keep more of the Aberdeen city limits within the same district, the Legislature included 42 rural sections to the east of town—Bath Township plus six bonus sections—necessarily increasing the number of voters in Aberdeen proper who had to be split off into District 2, which looks like a stealth bomber stretching south and east below Watertown:

District 2, as gerrymandered by the South Dakota Legislature, 2011
District 2, as gerrymandered by the South Dakota Legislature, 2011

Given current population figures, Aberdeen can’t maintain its territorial integrity within a single legislative district. But the above maps indicate that the Legislature unnecessarily fiddled with the map to target certain neighborhoods for certain districts and to increase the number of Aberdeen voters who would be thrown into far-flung District 2. The Legislature drew a map that gives more Aberdeen voters less opportunity to be represented by their neighbors.

Any city has a natural interest in ensuring that its residents can win fair representation in the Legislature. Whatever map lines would optimize our representation, the city has taken the position that an independent, nonpartisan commission would draw those lines more fairly than our current self-interested legislators.

Update 08:28 CDT: A source who attended the meeting says the two councilors who voted against the resolution were Dave Bunsness and Alan Johnson. Both men represent the southwest district of the city, which is the district divided by the 2011 gerrymander:

Aberdeen, southwest city council district in green, precincts 8, 9, and 10.
Aberdeen, southwest city council district in green, precincts 8, 9, and 10.

It appears that the gerrymander lines up with the boundaries of Precinct 8. Councilors Bunsness and Johnson both appear to live in Precinct 9.

8 Responses to Aberdeen City Council Expresses Support for Independent Redistricting Commission

  1. Congratulations to the Aberdeen City Council. The South Dakota Legislature and the state Republicans are gluttonous with power and grabbing more power. Nothing demonstrates their childish greed as much as their behavior with gerrymandering and squeezing out more possibilities that anything other than a right wing fool can get elected.

    Explaining why this is horrible governance has been uphill for Democrats. Even Rep. Bill Thompson had trouble explaining the need for this reform when he introduced similar legislation to take the toy out of the hands of the petulant children.

    This is why I celebrate Fred Deutsch’s completely redundant and stupid bill to stop a problem which could never happen in South Dakota. As long as Bozos like Deutsch keep using their elected positions to pander to the most narrow right wing base of their party, the more the public will want to spank the panderers in Pierre.

    Messaging to the voters of South Dakota is key to success:

    – This is YOUR legislature. They raise your taxes, cut essential programs, embarrass you with stupid legislation and waste South Dakota’s economic potential with stupid bills.

    – You can stop the panderers and goofballs in Pierre. One-party rule guarantees more and more extremism and less and less getting done to solve real problems.

    – Take back YOUR legislature. It doesn’t belong to Pam Roberts. It doesn’t belong to the SDGOP. It isn’t the property of Governor Daugaard who still hasn’t figure out how to lead or get anything done. It’s your district and your legislature. Take it back!

    – Remove the political campaigns and lobbyists from deciding YOUR legislative district and your legislators. It’s time to take away their toy and put it in the hands of adults.

  2. Hey, 96, here’s a question about apportionment and representative power:

    Which map would give Aberdeen more power in the Legislature:

    1. A District 3 that hews as tightly to Aberdeen city limits as possible, cutting out the minimum allowable number of city residents and placing them in District 1 or District 2; or,
    2. A District 3 that consists of all of Brown County north of Highway 12/6th Avenue South, and a District 2 that consists of all of Brown County south of Highway 12 plus all of Spink County?

    Map #1 concentrates Aberdonians in one district, ensuring three Aberdeen legislators. Map #2 cuts Aberdeen roughly in half (I’m open to demographic adjustment to find the true center line of Aberdeen population) and provides a real chance of six Aberdeen legislators and an even better chance of six Brown County legislators. Which is more in Aberdeen’s interest? Which is more fair?

  3. What’s best for Aberdeen is to not be a lost voice against Sioux Falls and Rapid City. If I lived and worked in Aberdeen, I’d want three solid, respectable Aberdeen voices to go to Pierre, and to place Brown County with an adjacent county(ies) that has similar interests and aspirations. Packing it in with McPherson County, which was done to gerrymander more blockheaded Republicans in a Brown County district, is a very poor match.

    More importantly, it really matters WHO is elected in Brown County. The current Novstrups and Greenfields delegation marks a very disappointing low point for a county that has produced high quality leaders like Joe Barnett, Lars Herseth, Peg Lamont, Dr. Bill Taylor, Craig Schaunaman, Paul Dennert, Steve Cutler and Dennis Feickert.

    What’s in Aberdeen’s best interest is finding solid achievers in the community, both Democrat and Republican, to run for the legislature. But I agree that rigging legislative district to keep uber-right wing neanderthals in office is the first thing that must go. Rigging elections to increase the power of the majority party to extreme lengths is the lousiest way to form a representative state legislature.

  4. A concise anti-gerrymandering slogan:

    “Voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around.”

  5. Corey: I do not have the time presently to go into the details of the Aberdeen situation but I was an active member of the committee that developed the plan. In the spirit of Bernie Sanders and his speech yesterday at Liberty University, can we agree that District 18 ( Yankton county) and District 31 ( Lawrence County) were not rigged or done in a partisan manner. (Both counties were kept whole and not changed.) Also, can we agree that Districts 26, 27 and 28 were done fairly to ensure native American opportunities to win races. The districts adopted by the committee and the full legislature were approved by the US Justice Department and no lawsuit has been filed by the ACLU as they did after the redistricting of 2001. They were adopted to meet every criteria of the Voting Rights Act. Also, can we agree that the current map was adopted by a bipartisan vote as Sen. Bradford voted yes to move it to the full legislature. We may disagree on other matters but hopefully we can find common ground on these five districts. More in the future on this topic when I have more spare time. JB

  6. Redrawing Aberdeen’s districts the way they did was one way to keep my brother-in-law, Burt Elliott, out of District 3, where they knew he was popular because he taught at ACHS for 34 years and knows many people in District 3. Now Dist. 3 has three Republicans in the Legislature, which is exactly what the GOP Legislature wanted.

    We need this independent, non-politician redistricting to get rid of gerrymandering. The way some of these districts are drawn is just ridiculous. There’s no way that some candidates can do all the traveling it would take to contact voters in their districts.

    Please sign the redistricting petition so that we can get some common sense back into redistricting and give EVERY candidate a fair shot at campaigning. The voters should be choosing their representatives; the representatives should not be choosing their voters.

  7. “Also, can we agree that the current map was adopted by a bipartisan vote as Sen. Bradford voted yes to move it to the full legislature[?]”

    Um, no. We cannot agree to that. One vote doesn’t magically make something “bipartisan.” As fig leaves go, that’s ludicrous and insulting.

    Bravo to not breaking up Yankton or Lawrence counties when they had almost exactly the right number of people for a district. That’s two instances where probably the right decision was made, and now what — we’re supposed to throw a parade?

    How about the problem of chopping up Rapid City and Sioux Falls in plainly ridiculous ways, just like Aberdeen? How about Bon Homme county being split in half, certainly not because of its population, but to oust Frank Kloucek? What about other districts that are geographically incongruous, if not necessarily “wrong,” like the one running in a thin strip from Moody to Jerauld County? Maybe it was necessary, but given the shameless gerrymandering going on elsewhere, I’m not inclined to give the benefit of the doubt.

    Iowa redistricts the right way: With an independent commission, and by law they’re prohibited from splitting counties or making odd geographical snakes out of their boundaries. Granted, they’ve got ninety-some counties of relatively equal size, so it makes the process a bit easier; there’s no way we could avoid breaking up Minnehaha or Pennington in some fashion. However, there’s a better, less shamelessly partisan way to create districts than what the party hacks in Pierre do now.

  8. Deb Geelsdottir

    Use a panel of retired judges like MN does. Interest groups, geographical groups, political parties, etc, can all submit proposals to the judges panel, but only the judges decide. It works very well.