New redistricting map approved by Beaufort County Council

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3A cutting board

3A cutting board

Beaufort County has new political maps, unanimously approved by the county council this week, which reconfigure the districts of Hilton Head, grouping mostly Gullah wards, but also move two council members and two council members school in different districts.

Every 10 years, political district lines are redrawn to reflect the last U.S. census, an often controversial process known as redistricting that local and state legislators undertake. A spike in population south of the River Broad over the past 10 years, as shown by the 2020 census, means Bluffton and surrounding areas will be better represented on county councils.

Due to the pandemic, the process of taking the 2020 census was shortened to four months instead of the usual nine, and people complained that not everyone was counted.

Under map 3A, approved on Monday:

  • In the districts north of the Broad, District 1 would remain essentially the same but expand further south into Laurel Bay. A part of Baynard Road would go to District 5. District 3 would expand into what was previously District 2, taking almost all of the islands east of the Harbor River and keeping Parris Island. District 2 County Council Member Paul Sommerville would retain Harbor Island’s northernmost point.
  • South of the Broad, the new map will move the neighborhoods of Bluffton on the Buck Island/Simmonsville corridor and the Old Miller Road/Stony Creek community to District 9.

County Council Chairman Joe Passiment will move from District 6 in Bluffton to District 5, which is mostly south of the Broad but also encompasses the western edge of Beaufort. District 5 councilor Brian Flewelling is moving to District 4 north of the Broad and will have to decide whether to run against District 4 council member Alice Howard.

Two school board members will be moving to new districts. Richard Geier moves from District 5 to District 4 and Angela Middleton moves from District 6 to District 5.

From November 24 to December 13, the county held three public meetings and offered a redistricting website with videos, key documents and an interactive map. The public could also submit comments through the website.

According to these online comments, residents were concerned that they did not have enough time to reflect and comment on the proposed maps. At a public meeting on Hilton Head Island, members of the Gullah community expressed concern about the first two maps separating their 14 neighborhoods.

Dan Morgan, Beaufort County Mapping and Applications Manager, took the feedback and created two new options, 3A and 3B.

“The feedback has been great and has helped county staff focus on neighborhoods street by street and make sure we’re doing things right,” Morgan said. “We believe we have been able to preserve the one person, one vote principle while improving the aggregation of community interests with the help of the public.”

Maps 3A and 3B have made a concerted effort to keep the 14 districts of Gullah together, keeping 12½ of them in District 10 and the other 1½ in District 11.

The county council then chose map 3A because it had the most equal populations among the newly drawn districts. They adopted the map option following a committee meeting and three readings where the public could have continued to provide further feedback.

The county argued the process needed to be done quickly in order to meet the March deadline set by the state of South Carolina.

How does redistricting work?

Redistricting takes place every 10 years and reflects census data. Several criteria must be met, including having nearly equal populations in each new district, not discriminating based on race and ethnicity, and keeping districts compact.

The process usually takes nine months. However, the county did not receive the census data until September, when it would typically have received it between April and June according to Morgan, the director of mapping.

This census was Morgan’s third and, he said, one of the most difficult redistricting efforts.

To see if your district has changed, check the county redistricting website.

Laura Antunez is the local government and development reporter for The Island Packet. Born in Cuba and raised in Miami, she graduated from Florida International University with more than 30 articles published in the school’s PantherNOW newspaper and FIU’s press office, South Florida Media Network. Towards the end of her bachelor’s degree, she became interested in data journalism and then learned Python and Javascript. She used these skills during an internship with The Hechinger Report to create an interactive map and data visualization.

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