Our State Constitution mandates that every ten years the Legislature must “reapportion” its membership into legislative districts following the federal census. The Constitution allows for anywhere from twenty-five to thirty-five legislative districts. State Law specifies that the state shall be divided into thirty-five legislative districts.
Article 3, Section 5 contains the constitutional mandate that legislative districts consist of compact, contiguous territory and have population as nearly equal as is practicable. In practice, population numbers among districts may have a gross deviation of ten percent.
When the Legislature redistricted in 2011, it adopted a statute specifying, as a matter of policy, that in addition to the standards of population deviance, there would be a priority on protecting communities of interest, as well as respecting geographical and political boundaries. For example, there is an effort to keep counties from being split into different districts. State law also calls for protecting minority voting rights consistent with both the U.S. and the South Dakota Constitutions, and federal statutes as interpreted by the courts.
In the past, federal census data has become available about this time of year. However, because of delays related to COVID, the Census Bureau has announced that the data will be released by September 30. The Constitution gives the legislature until December 1 to complete the reapportionment. If the legislature cannot agree on how to draw new legislative boundaries by then, the Supreme Court will draw the boundary lines.
In general, we know that areas with population growth, such as around Sioux Falls and in the Black Hills, will have more compact districts. Rural areas where population growth has not kept up, or where population has declined, will increase in size.
A legislative redistricting committee has been appointed, comprised of seven senators and eight representatives. This committee is working on plans to hold field hearings around the state in October to take public input on how legislative districts should be drawn. The full legislature will meet in a special session on November 8 and 9 to pass laws outlining the new districts.
I was recently named chair of the Senate redistricting committee. Your thoughts and comments are welcome as we work on this topic. Please feel free to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.