Charleston County’s population has grown significantly over the past decade, but the number of black residents has fallen more than in any other county in South Carolina.
These factors together play an important role as county council districts are redrawn ahead of the 2022 election, and the process could also establish district lines for Charleston County School District candidates.
Under a 2020 state law, unless the legislative delegation directs otherwise, county council districts would also be used for the Charleston County School Board election this year, when the nine school board seats will be on the ballot. Instead of voting for each school board seat on the ballot, as in previous years, residents would vote for one school board member to represent the area where they live following the law-mandated shift to single-member districts.
“The (county’s legislative) delegation decided over a year ago that school board members would run in the board district in which they live,” Charleston County Board Chairman Teddie Pryor said. . “We have nothing to do with it.”
In other words, the county does not redraw council districts with the school board in mind, but those same districts could be used for school board elections. The county has been careful to ensure that current county council members still reside in their newly drawn districts, but the same cards could put more than one school board member in a single district or create districts without an incumbent.
Governments with legislative districts, from the United States House of Representatives to local councils and councils, redraw these geographic boundaries each decade after the census so that each district has roughly the same number of residents. In this case, Charleston County Council’s nine districts will each have nearly 45,359 residents, up from 38,912 after the 2010 census.
Redistricting can be a difficult process because whichever political party is in power can potentially draw maps that make it more likely that their candidates will win. For example, the state Legislature’s plan for U.S. House seats is under litigation, and opponents, including the League of Women Voters, allege that the maps have were drawn not to serve voters but to protect Republican 1st District Rep. Nancy Mace.
“I think we’ve done a hell of a better job than the state with redistricting,” said Pryor, a Democrat. “Talk about gerrymandering. It’s just ridiculous what people do to retain power.”
Republicans and Democrats seem to agree that the county’s proposed district maps are fair. The county has proposed three similar options for new district boundaries, and the first opportunity for public comment will be at the Jan. 13 council meeting.
“There was no squabbling, no fighting, no haggling,” said Councilman Brantley Moody, a Republican. “I don’t think anyone is really mad at anything.”
When this is all over, some voters will find themselves in different council districts than before and the political and racial makeup of the council could potentially change. Currently, four of nine council members are black, five are white, and Democrats hold a 5-4 majority.
The county’s non-Hispanic population in 2020 was 65% white and 22% black. The county’s Hispanic residents (who can be of any race) were the second largest racial or ethnic group, about 7% of the population, followed by multiracial and Asian residents. From 2010 to 2020, Charleston County grew by 58,026, for a total population of 408,235, but the county’s black population decreased by 11,700.
In areas where the county’s population has grown the most – Mount Pleasant, Johns Island and West Ashley – some council districts currently have thousands more residents than other districts, and that’s what redistricting is supposed to correct. Those with too many inhabitants will get a bit smaller to balance the numbers, and those with too few will get bigger, thanks to the re-division.
Charleston County Republican Party Chairman Maurice Washington said he had heard no concerns about the proposed cards from Republican council members. Charleston County Democratic Party Chairman Greg Perry said the maps appeared to have been drawn fairly.
“That’s how it’s supposed to work,” Perry said. “We have three options which are all good options.”
Three new neighborhood maps are all similar and have these things in common:
- No current council member would be removed from their district. This means that all current council members would always live in the districts they represent, regardless of the map chosen.
- Of the council’s nine districts, seven would have a non-Hispanic white majority, as was the case when the districts were redrawn a decade ago.
- Only one district, District 4, currently represented by Councilman Henry Darby, would continue to have a non-Hispanic black majority. In District 5, now represented by Pryor, black residents would still be the largest racial or ethnic group, but would no longer make up more than half of the population.
- In each proposed map, the districts now represented by Pryor and Darby would shift north and primarily serve North Charleston.
- In each proposed map, District 6, now represented by Kylon Middleton, would be moved almost entirely to West Ashley, no longer including much of North Charleston and Lincolnville.
- And in each, District 3, now represented by Rob Wehrman, would lose much of the northern area above Park Circle, but add a strip of the Charleston Peninsula.
The current district map and three options for new districts are attached to the online version of this article, and the three map options are also on the county’s website at charlestoncounty.org. Public comments on the various options can be emailed to [email protected] The county council is due to hold a public hearing and first reading on the redistricting ordinance on January 13, with the final vote scheduled for February 1.
Pryor, Darby, Middleton, Wehrman and Anna Johnson now constitute a 5-4 Democratic majority on the board. Of the four Republicans — Jenny HoneyCutt, Moody, Herb Sass and Dickie Schweers — Moody’s current district of West Ashley would see the most change.
Moody said one of three card options would make it almost certain that West Ashley residents will fill two of the council seats, which is currently the case and “what you should have”.
Whether the county’s final map will also apply to the Charleston County School Board election remains up in the air with no firm timeline for a decision.
“We need to make sure they make sense for SDCC and the county as a whole,” said state Rep. Leon Stavrinakis, D-Charleston, a former county board member. “We have to see what the county’s end product is and then assess.”
If no action is taken by the legislative delegation, the eventual new map of the county will define the districts for the school board and the county council until the next redistricting after the 2030 census.