We may get another go at creating an independent redistricting commission in South Dakota. Leading a coalition of eighteen South Dakota groups, the League of Women Voters is promoting an initiated constitutional amendment to move the power of drawing our Legislative districts from the Legislature to an independent commission.
According to the marked-up draft posted by the Secretary of State following LRC review Tuesday, the sponsors (“Ms. Knudson, Mr. Heidepriem, and Mr. Brown”) seek to rewrite Article 3 Section 5 of the South Dakota Constitution. This proposal looks more like voter-rejected Amendment T in 2016 than Dan Ahlers’s failed redistricting petition in 2019. Under the amendment, the state Board of Elections would appoint nine registered South Dakota voters to draw the Legislative map, with a special reset in 2023 after passage in the 2022 election, followed by a return to our regularly scheduled decennial redistricting in 2031, post-Census. Those nine lucky mappers could not hold or have held any partisan elected office (ah, so city council and sanitary district members elected on a non-partisan ballot could still serve!) or gubernatorially appointed position in the preceding three years. No more than three commissioners could belong to the same party… which technically means the Board of Elections could appoint all independents, since “Independent” is not a party.
The LWV amendment would set the following criteria for the independent redistricters:
- Comply with the United States Constitution, the South Dakota Constitution, and federal laws, as interpreted by the United States Supreme Court and other courts of competent jurisdiction;
- Have equal population to the extent practicable;
- Be geographically compact and contiguous to the extent practicable;
- Respect communities of interest to the extent practicable; and
- Use visible geographic features, municipal and county boundaries, and undivided census tracts to the extent practicable [Drawn Together, draft initiated amendment, reviewed by Legislative Research Council, 2020.12.15].
Like Amendment T and the Ahlers amendment, LWV would prohibit the independent redistricting commission from considering party registration, voting history, other data related to likely voting patterns, or the place of residence of any legislative incumbent or candidate. Thus, if you pass this amendment, the commission would very likely undo the tentacle of District 23 that the 2021 Legislature will draw east from McPherson County to my house in northwest Aberdeen and put my neighbors and me back in a district contiguous with most of Aberdeen and Brown County.
The LRC tries to complicate things for the sponsors by noting that their draft does not address the Congressional redistricting and asking if they’d like to add provisions for the possibility that South Dakota’s population will boom and win us back two seats in Congress. But don’t go there, League of Women Voters! It’s a trap! Governor Noem probably sent Matt McCaulley up to the LRC office with that suggestion to trick you into breaking the single-subject rule! Besides, Article 3 Section 5 doesn’t address Congressional redistricting; you don’t have to, either. And according to Senator Thune, we can’t even get money to move here, not to mention people, so drawing two Congressional districts is not a pressing concern.
With LRC’s response December 15, if LWV moves quickly in drafting and submitting its final proposal, it could get the statutorily required response from the Attorney General by mid-/late-February and have petitions (with lots of clean pens and hand sanitizer for circulators and signers who won’t have a shot at coronavirus shots until April) on the street by March 1. They would have until November 8, 2021, to collect 33,921 signatures to place this amendment on the 2022 ballot.
3. …. Be geographically compact and contiguous and support the school district boundaries to the extent practicable
Why ‘support the school district boundaries as practicable’ — because those are communities and school district communities are not gerrymandered like the letter “L” or “J” or other silly voting district manifestations.