Beaufort SC County census data could hurt district maps
Residents are concerned Beaufort County’s proposed political districts, drawn based on the 2020 census — a shortened counting process due to the pandemic — could hurt black communities north of the Broad River.
On Monday evening, residents came to the first of three Beaufort County Council public hearings on the new maps. Representatives from Beaufort, Lady’s Island, Port Royal, Burton and St. Helena were on hand to hear constituents’ concerns and questions.
Several residents said the maps will be biased against black neighborhoods due to poor quality data from the census, which was conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic and faced several legal challenges.
“I know in my district, District 1, a lot of people didn’t even know about the census,” said Earl Campbell, who represented District 1 on the school board for more than 30 years.
“Before, they came. Now you have to do it online. A lot of people in District 1, District 3, in Saint Helena, those people can’t do it that way. Not everyone is counted, and this is not the first time this has happened.
Urban Institute research indicates that in the 2020 census, South Carolina was undercounted by 47,108 people, or about 1% of the state’s total population.
Black and Hispanic residents were disproportionately undercounted, with enumerators missing about 2.64% of South Carolina’s black population and 2.07% of the state’s Hispanic population; children 4 and under were also underestimated by about 6% statewide.
“The federal government, because of the pandemic, shortened the process, so there’s probably a lot of people who weren’t counted,” County Council Chairman Joe Passiment said.
Dawn Paige, president of the Lowcountry Equitable Land & Resource Trust, said the black population undercount will worsen disenfranchisement in District 3, which has the second-highest black population of any district in the county. behind District 1.
In addition to St. Helena and parts of Beaufort, District 3 includes Parris Island, where many military families fill out the census but do not vote in local elections or attend Beaufort County School District campuses.
“We already have a situation where resources are not being spent where they should be in St. Helena and District 3,” Paige said at Monday’s meeting. “I just wonder what kind of adjustments are going to be made, especially when we look at local spending.”
When Paige asked Passiment to commit to collecting “additional data” on county demographics, he balked.
“Census data is census data,” he said. “Whether or not there was an undercount is something that those people who worked on the maps cannot change.”
What’s in the new cards?
The county has offered two maps using 2020 data. Both are candidates for review. One must be approved by Beaufort County Council in a series of three readings that will end on January 24.
The council’s executive committee will review the maps on December 6, and the first and second readings of the final map are scheduled to take place on December 13 and January 10.
Once a map is approved by the county council, it goes to the state for final approval, and then the board of elections adopts the new districts, Passiment said.
Before that, the county council has scheduled two more public hearings on the maps. One was at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Bluffton Recreation Center for Districts 5, 6, 7 and 9. Another is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Hilton Head Island Recreation Center for Districts 8, 10 and 11.
Each map is designed to evenly distribute the population of Beaufort County into 11 districts, shrinking districts south of the Broad River which have seen enormous growth over the past decade and expanding districts north of the Broad where the growth has slowed or diminished. Each district is expected to have a population of around 17,000.
According to Passiment, the second map offered is more equal; the population of each district is about 350 of the others.
- In Bluffton, the Sun City neighborhood has become more compact, according to Dan Morgan, director of mapping and applications for Beaufort County. This resulted in New Riverside, Pritchardville and Heritage being moved out of the jurisdiction of all current county council members, creating a vacancy with no incumbent.
- North of the Broad, council member Paul Sommerville, who lives in Beaufort and represents District 2, would represent a corner of Harbor Island in the second proposed map. In card proposal #1, York Glover, who lives on St. Helen’s Island in District 3, would represent that slice of Harbor Island.
- District 5 council member Brian Flewelling, who lives in Beaufort, would be moved out of his district under the proposed maps and would have to decide to run against another council member to stay on council.
The proposed district boundaries could change the districts of up to four Beaufort County School Board members, forcing them to run against another member to remain on the board and leaving up to two districts without an incumbent:
- David Striebinger, who has represented Lady’s Island and parts of Beaufort in District 2 since 2016, would be moved to District 3 under the proposed Alternate Map 1. This district has been represented by William Smith since 2019.
- Cathy Robine, who has represented parts of Bluffton and Hilton Head Island in District 8 since 2019, would be moved to District 10 in both proposed maps. Council vice-chairman Mel Campbell has represented this district since 2019.
- Richard Geier, who has represented Burton in District 5 since 2019, would be moved to District 4 as Map 1 and District 1 as Map 2. These districts are represented by Tricia Fidrych and Earl Campbell respectively.
- Angela Middleton, who has represented Okatie in District 6 since January, would move to District 5 in both proposed cards.
According to the two proposed maps, districts 6 and 8 would have no incumbents; District 2 would not have an incumbent under card #1.
Campbell and Smith came to Monday’s meeting and said they were disappointed with the lack of communication between the county council and the school board about the new maps.
“As a school board member, an elected official, I’m disappointed,” Smith said. “It hurts the community. It’s very important for us to continue to rush this process.