We're taking a look at the impact of Republican gerrymanders on the 2016 congressional elections. Read why in our introductory post, and click here for the full series.
Democrats were competitive in three different Republican-leaning congressional seats as recently as the 2010 elections, and Team Red consequently sought to solidify their hold over South Carolina’s congressional delegation during 2010’s redistricting. Republicans packed as many Democrats into the black-majority 6th district as they could from Charleston, Columbia, and the rural Black Belt to ensure that all four surrounding seats were heavily white and Republican. This gerrymander worked flawlessly in the last three election cycles, electing six Republicans and just one Democrat even though Mitt Romney only won the state by 55-44 and Donald Trump by 55-41.
However, there was no need for the 6th District to include both cities of Columbia and Charleston to obtain a majority-minority population under the Voting Rights Act. In fact, South Carolina easily could have drawn another majority-minority district all while achieving greater compactness and respect for city and county integrity, as seen in our nonpartisan proposal above (click here for a larger version). Given a recent federal court ruling that forced Virginia to draw just such another district under similar circumstances in 2016, South Carolina too arguably should have been forced to do so under the Voting Rights Act and the Equal Protections Clause.
Our hypothetical map maintains the safely Democratic majority-minority 6th district, but removes the state capital of Columbia from that seat in order to turn the 5th District from heavily white to majority minority. Both seats have narrow white pluralities, but there are enough white Democrats to consistently elect black voters’ candidate preference (in this case, a black Democrat). Instead of losing the 5th District by 57-39 under the existing map, Hillary Clinton would have carried our nonpartisan version by 59-38, making it practically impossible for a Republican like outgoing Rep. Mick Mulvaney to win in such a polarized state.
Without Republican gerrymandering, and with proper enforcement of the Voting Rights Act, a black South Carolina Democrat could have gained one secure district that was previously safe for a white Republican. Hopefully, black voters will sue to force the drawing of just such a district in the 2020s round of redistricting.