Residents influence local redistricting process

Input from residents of Hilton Head Island and rumors in northern Beaufort County are already having an impact on the local redistricting process and could help determine how political lines look for the next decade.

At a public hearing Wednesday, several Hilton Head residents said the three proposed maps for County Council and Board of Education seats would split minority voters on the island.

"Please do not destroy our representation by including our community partly in District 2 and partly in District 3," said Fran White, a member of the Hilton Head and Bluffton branch of the NAACP. "Please keep us all in District 2."

This and similar input were cited at a Redistricting Committee meeting Thursday, during which council members discussed an alternate plan for Hilton Head.

Councilman Steve Baer, who currently represents District 2, has submitted his own proposal for lines on the island, which he said would enhance minority representation by making his district 42 percent black and Hispanic.

That district -- which has the greatest minority population of any on the island -- would be only 34 percent black and Hispanic under a baseline plan created by the S.C. Budget and Control Board's Office of Research and Statistics.

The committee used Baer's proposal as a launching point Thursday, but modified it slightly to improve contiguity and keep other communities of interest together.

Only one Hilton Head county council member was present, and the committee wanted input from the other two, so no vote was taken, meaning the revised island districts are not yet under official consideration.

Because of population growth south of the Broad River, one of the eleven council seats will flip from northern Beaufort County to the Bluffton area. The second plan under consideration would merge two minority districts and boost the number of black voters in District 6, held by Councilman Gerald Dawson.

Dawson said rumors are beginning to fly that he is supporting this map to shore up his base by stealing black voters from fellow Councilman Herbert Glaze. To dispel the notion, Dawson said he plans to support the baseline map created by impartial state workers.

"To show that there's no improprieties on my part, then, I'm backing away from plan two, and I'm going for the state plan," he said.

Follow reporter Kyle Peterson at twitter.com/eyeonbeaufortco.