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The Challenge of Redistricting

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      riverside
   Population in the Riverside area east of Suber Road grew by
more than118% since 2000 according to U.S. Census figures.

When the U.S. Census Bureau released its 10-year population figures, cities received a snapshot view of population change over the previous decade. In the City of Greer, the 2010 figures had a dramatic impact.

The city’s current population, 25,515 according to the census data, represented growth of more than 51 percent from 2000 to 2010. Of significant importance was where that growth occurred. For instance, the Riverside area east of Suber Road ballooned by more than 118%.

So it came as no surprise in May when Bobby Bowers, director of the Office of Research and Statistics for the South Carolina Budget and Control Board, informed Greer City Council that growth over the previous decade had created an imbalance in five of the city’s six voting districts.

In Greer, a balance of 4,253 residents per district would be ideal although a three-to-four percent variance would be acceptable.  At least one minority district is required.

Only District 1 (3.0%) fell within the allotted variance, followed closely by District 4 with a 6% variance.  The city’s other four districts were considerably out of balance and growth in the Riverside area pushed the number of District 6 residents 4,160 over the goal.

With three council seats, the mayor’s office, and a Commissioner of Public Works position up for election in the November 2011 election, city council decided that it was unfair to hold elections under unbalanced districts and voted on May 28 to ask the Department of Justice to postpone the Nov. 8 municipal election until the conclusion of the redistricting process.

That process included working with Bowers’ office to redraw the city’s voting districts based on census blocks and adhering to such requirements as contiguity. Council elected Mayor Rick Danner and councilmen Wayne Griffin and Wryley Bettis to lay that groundwork.

The three found the task to be a difficult one.

Districts were drawn using census blocks – geographic units typically bounded by streets, roads or creeks. Lines often could not be moved from street to street to accommodate equal representation because the streets would cross new census blocks. Also, because the population of a census block could vary greatly, seemingly simple changes dramatically upset the population balance.

“The process was, to say the least, interesting... if not a bit confounding sometimes,” Danner said. “We spent about three solid hours with the (Office of Research and Statistics) staff down there working on creating the alternatives.

“It was a process enhanced by their ability to make changes with the software, but it is still like juggling half a dozen balls at one time. The slightest amount of movement in one district can compound the results in the other districts.  It became an exercise in futility in a couple of attempts.”

The ad hoc committee returned from Columbia with four possible redistricting plans which were presented in a council workshop, discussed in public hearings, and considered during two readings. Access to each of the potential plans was made available at Greer City Hall, on the city’s website, and through local news media.

A major point of discussion in examining the four maps was the desire to maintain communities of interest, which was among the criteria council adopted at the start of the redistricting process.

“One of the things you’ll find is that a demographer in Columbia and a computer program may not be able to keep communities of interest together and may not be able to reconcile the fact that movement in some districts is simply inappropriate for our region or given area,” Danner said.

Council narrowed the selections to a unanimous favorite on Nov. 22, passing first reading of the ordinance that evening. Second and final reading passed on Dec. 13.

“If you’re looking at any of these maps and what a work of art they are in portraying a set of districts, you’re really looking at the wrong city,” Bettis said. “This one comes as close as any of them to perfection.”

The map was forwarded to the Department of Justice, which approved the selection in February of 2012. That made it possible for council to reschedule the municipal election for July 24, 2012 under the new districts.