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Redistricting Reform: HJR 1001 Creates Better Legislative Districts

Partisan redistricting has made Congress more radically partisan and less functional. In a system where the parties in power draw the boundaries, legislators choose their voters instead of voters choosing their representatives.

We get the same phenomenon in South Dakota, where the GOP uses its majority in Pierre to ensure the maintenance of that majority. The Republicans box the Democrats into a few uncompetitive districts and claim the lion's share for themselves. An eager reader offers this analysis:

In South Dakota, in the 2012 election because of gerrymandering and incumbent legislators bunching up Democratic strong holds and stretching Republican strong holds into moderate areas the citizens in South Dakota had 13 state senate races that didn’t even have both a Republican or a Democratic candidate in the race and one race the Democratic candidate was just a placeholder and didn’t even attempt to campaign. In the state house races there were 27 openings that the Republicans and the Democrats didn’t even field a candidate because it was so one sided that the other side new they were going to lose and in 12 races the candidates didn’t even campaign because it was a losing battle. So in 53 state legislative races the election was already determined because of gerrymandering by the incumbent partisan state legislators. This is Democracy at its worse, the people in South Dakota need choices and this process is broken.

Enter House Joint Resolution 1001, a constitutional amendment to create a bipartisan redistricting commission for South Dakota. The details:

  • Seven people draw the legislative district boundaries.
  • None of them can be sitting members of the Legislature.
  • The House and Senate majority and minority leaders appoint four members; those four pick the other three.
  • Within each Senate district, the commission draws two single-member House districts.
  • Whenever possible, counties and municipalities stay whole within districts.
  • We redraw under this new system in 2015, then back on the ten-year schedule in 2021.

This plan is good! We get the decisions out of the hands of legislators gunning for re-election. We get rid of the quirky campaign calculus of two-member House districts, where the sharp candidate's strategy is to be everybody's second choice. And for those of you who appreciate the Hegelian dialectic, it gives us a better chance of getting balanced representation from a process that is not decided by the party in power on the House and Senate floor.

One concern: HJR 1001 does move the redistricting process one step further away from the voters. We pick our reps, they pick some of the committee, the committee picks the rest of the committee, and they make the call. Can we make democracy better by making the redistricting process arguably a bit less democratic?

House State Affairs was supposed to hear HJR 1001 yesterday, but they got so wrapped up in ignoring educators (again!) and killing a school funding bill that they had to put off redistricting reform until next week Monday.


  1. Rorschach 2013.01.31

    This is such a fair plan that Republicans are sure to kill it. Expect it to be on the ballot next election, where it will pass overwhelmingly.

  2. Douglas Wiken 2013.01.31

    Committee should include heads of computer science departments at SD Universities. Let a computer do the dirty work and require that sitting members locations not be considered.

  3. owen reitzel 2013.01.31

    Mkes sense but the Tea Baggers won't go for it. They would never win

  4. grudznick 2013.01.31

    Our elected officials appoint 2 cronies who then appoint their buddies to this board? Are you insaner than Sibby's stepbrother?

    No way. Let the elected officials voted in by the people do their job. Districting is just fine.

  5. Douglas Wiken 2013.01.31

    Redistricting as practiced now is not "fine". It is morally and intellectually corrupt.

    Of course having two houses based on population makes one of them redundant as tits on a boar. Make one district the whole state and then use proportional representation with each party nominating a slate.

  6. Curtis Price 2013.01.31

    The gerrymandering in Rapid City is just obscene.

    The two areas with significant Democratic majorities (North Rapid and Robbinsdale) cannot even come close to electing qualified candidates because party-line Republican voters have been added to them. My district -- 32 -- has a big chunk of the west side of Rapid (West Flormann) that pretty much kills our Dems cold on Election Day.

    Three rounds of enthusiastic Republican redistricting gives us a legislature that gives us bunches of referred laws every year. I guess it keeps us all engaged anyway.

  7. Winston 2013.01.31

    Rorschah is exactly right. South Dakota Republicans are unknowingly turning our state into a direct democracy and away from a "Republican" form of government through indirect ways, thus invariably empowering the Democratic agenda.

  8. grudznick 2013.01.31

    As development encroaches into prairie chicken draw and your district spreads across the road by Hart Ranch to include some of those folk your neighborhood will continue to improve, Mr. Price. Robbinsdale is the rotting core of a hardening Republican district.

  9. WayneB 2013.02.01

    I helped to coordinate with all the counties to make sure our boundaries were up-to-date for the 2010 Census. Very interesting to see how our "urban" districts are drawn.

    Part of the challenge is finding easily identifiable barriers to draw districts For instance, Districts 10, 15, & 14 all seem to be unnecessarily shaped, but I don't know off hand what the density is in those areas. GIS mapping software could do miles for that - run an algorithm and boom, done.

    Mr. Price has a valid point - Pennington County's districts are a mess. I spent 80% of my time verifying where those boundaries were... Districts 33 & 34 seem overly complicated for no good reason.

    Thankfully my district is pretty competitive. It's also not gerrymandered all to hell.

    Good topic.

  10. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.02.02

    Grudz does point to a fundamental challenge of redistricting: whom do we pick to draw the lines? Certainly the leaders will pick people they think will serve their interests. All we can hope for there is balance... a better balance than obtained in a legislature dominated by one party.

    Then again, why should Republicans and Democrats get a jump on representation on the committee? Why not members of each registered political party in the state, plus Independents? We could create a supercommittee: one member guaranteed for each registered party, plus additional delegates based on registered voters in the last general election. The leadership of each party could appoint those delegates... but then who would appoint the Independents?

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