Butte Co. commissioner voices concerns over redistricting

BELLE FOURCHE –– One Butte County Commissioner recently voiced concerns about the legislative redistricting that is currently underway following the release of data compiled from the 2020 census.

During the Sept. 28 commission meeting, Commissioner Stan Harms asked for the discussion item to be placed on the agenda to initiate a conversation about the once-in-a-decade process.

“I think we need to lay out some rules of how we want the redistricting done,” he said. “This guy that’s doing the GIS (geographic information system) is basically cutting the numbers … and you can throw up boundaries anywhere you want to get to 2,050 (residents), or whatever the number is, in each district.”

Redistricting is the formal process of enacting new congressional and state legislative district boundaries. Every year after the census is completed, the South Dakota Legislature is constitutionally required to redraw its legislative district boundaries to accommodate shifts in population and ensure equal representation to the state’s population.

District lines are redrawn every 10 years following completion of the United States census. Federal law stipulates that districts must have nearly equal populations and must not discriminate on the basis of race or ethnicity.

The two committees responsible for drawing the new legislative districts began their work in late August after the U.S. Census Bureau released its updated detailed data. The release of the data was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving lawmakers approximately 10 weeks to propose new boundaries before a special session of the Legislature that is set to convene Nov. 8.

“But I don’t think we want him just arbitrarily doing that,” Harms added, explaining that he has concerns about current sitting commissioners being put in a new district following the redistricting process.

Commission Chairman Karrol Herman said that it was her understanding that not moving commissioners into another commissioner’s district was one of the process’ top priorities.

“Well, I think we need to make it clear that if they don’t comply with that, we’re not going to approve it,” Harms said.

Another concern Harms had was keeping the district boundaries as close as possible to their current layout. It concerned him that constituents could suddenly be represented by a commissioner who they did not elect.

“I don’t see any reason why we wouldn’t demand that he keep the boundaries reasonably close,” he said, adding that he didn’t believe that there were more than 50 or 60 people off from the former census report. “I think that should be our instructions from this board to Elaine (Jensen, county auditor) and to him, indirectly.”

Additionally, Harms said that the process is at a standstill while the state continues its redistricting procedure, saying he expects that to be made available by Nov. 11.

“So, we need to wait for them (the state) to draw their lines and then he can draw them with him,” he said, adding that the county would also need to wait for the city of Belle Fourche to shore up its boundaries first. “So that we can look at their (the city’s) lines and the state’s lines and try and put ours as much as possible the same.”

Jensen said that as she gets more information about potential timeframes and details, she will share those with the commission.

Lawmakers are expected to hold a series of public input sessions across the state in October. An Oct. 25 committee meeting is scheduled to finalize the draft maps prior to a special session to adopt legislation regarding redistricting on Nov. 8. The formal constitutional deadline for adoption is Dec. 1.

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