Beaufort News

Minorities could lose representation in new Beaufort County political districts

One of the three Beaufort County Council seats held by minorities might disappear after this year's redistricting, the decennial process of redrawing political boundaries after a census.

District lines in South Carolina are subject to the federal Voting Rights Act and are screened by the U.S. Department of Justice to safeguard minority representation. But Bobby Bowers, director of the S.C. Budget and Control Board's Office of Research and Statistics, told County Council's redistricting committee Monday that eliminating a minority-majority seat might be the only way to reconfigure districts.

Data from the 2010 census show 162,233 county residents, so each of the 11 districts -- from which County Council and school-board members are elected -- must be drawn to encompass about 14,748 people.

Minorities currently constitute a majority of registered voters in three districts: District 5, which contains St. Helena Island; District 6, which includes Sheldon, Dale and Lobeco; and District 8, in northern Burton.

All of those districts are short of the population target and need to grow when lines are redrawn, but surrounding areas do not include any large blocs of black residents. So expanding those districts' boundaries would dilute black voters' power.

Trying to save all of the black districts, Bowers said, might result in three not-quite minority districts -- and no black councilmen.

"What you're going to end up doing is putting all of them at risk of being defeated," he said.

Bowers presented a draft map created by his office that consolidates District 8 into District 6, creates a new District 8 in Bluffton, and expands District 1 off of Hilton Head Island, which no longer has the population to support three council or school board representatives.

Council members will create and haggle over their own maps in the months to come. The redistricting committee hopes to present its recommendations by the end of July and gain approval from the full council by the end of September. The maps must then be submitted to the Department of Justice, which has 120 days to grant or deny approval.