SD Legislative Redistricting committee considers new census data with little time to spare

Current South Dakota legislative district map. Many districts will be redrawn to account for...
Current South Dakota legislative district map. Many districts will be redrawn to account for population changes in the 2020 census.(South Dakota Sec. of State)
Published: Aug. 30, 2021 at 10:12 PM MDT
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PIERRE, S.D. - With 2020 census data in as of early August, South Dakota state legislators are working on a tight deadline to make sure that redistricting is done ahead of the December 1st, 2021 federal deadline.

Perhaps the biggest challenge that the joint committee will face over the course of the next few months is what to do with the state’s two biggest cities.

John Claussen, a political activist, testified before the committee Monday.

“The South Dakota Constitution says that things need to be compact, which means dense,” Claussen explained. “That doesn’t mean you take a legislative district and walk it out forever so you can get a favorable outcome, when we do this, we should respect both the urban and the rural voice.”

State legislators discussed creating a “conurbation district” around Sioux Falls and Rapid City, which would carve out an area of those regions, and commit to putting a certain amount of legislative districts within them. However, the committee ultimately opted to hold off on doing so, in part due to substantial debate about what area constitutes ‘Sioux Falls.’

“What conurbation districts would help us do, and this is why I supported the idea, is it helps us work on that puzzle within a large puzzle,” said State Sen. Casey Crabtree (R-Madison). “Sioux Falls, had some population growth, and it is going to take us a while to get to the finish line there.”

Lawmakers also agreed to aim to have 25,333 people in each legislative district, or a number within 5% of that. That means legislative districts will have to stay between a minimum 24,066 residents and a maximum of 26,600 people.

Currently, federal law requires that state’s districts stay within 10% of the break up of the population.

Sioux Falls is set to be a major flash point for legislators and those testifying over the course of the next several meetings. Already, legislators alone have come up with six different official proposals for a Sioux Falls conurbation district.

“We should have seven legislative districts (in Sioux Falls), instead, we have nine,” said Claussen. “With the new census data we should have eight and now they are talking about ten or eleven. How they do that is they either take the urban to redo the rural, or the rural to redo the urban, and that is not fair to either voter.”

State legislators approved a plan to create three sub-committees tasked with overseeing in individual areas, those being Sioux Falls, Rapid City, and the Native American reservations. Committee leadership has continually voiced their commitment to a palms-up process that fairly accounts for the state’s Native American population and reservations, which are substantially protected by federal law.

Organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), are amongst those who have advocated for the redistricting committee to meet with tribal leadership in the state, and to hold public hearings on reservations.

The South Dakota Legislative Research Council (LRC) has created a tab on the homepage of its website titled “Redistricting 2021,” that allows South Dakotans to get the latest information, meeting dates, and look at case law on redistricting, amongst other things.

The committee will meet again on September 9th, and amongst other things, finalize conurbation district proposals after taking more public comment. Lawmakers on the committee will embark on a series of public input listening sessions starting in mid-October.