SIOUX FALLS (AP) – South Dakota lawmakers redrawing the state’s political boundaries debated how to define the state's two largest urban areas Thursday, moving forward with a map of the area around Rapid City but holding off on a proposal for Sioux Falls.
The state's population has shifted toward cities over the last decade, and the most contentious political lines are likely to be in the cities. Heavily urban districts and tribal regions are some of the only places where Democrats have been able to find any political success in recent years.
As the Republican-dominated redistricting committees race to meet a November deadline to come up with a proposal for legislative districts based on new census data, they are carving out maps around the legislative districts of Sioux Falls and Rapid City to analyze the regions in greater detail.
While the senate committee chair, Republican Sen. Mary Duvall, downplayed the determination of the outer bounds of Rapid City and Sioux Falls legislative districts as a “housekeeping decision" on Thursday, it sets the foundation for drawing the legislative districts in those areas.
Currently, several legislative districts in Sioux Falls span from city neighborhoods and strip malls into expanses of farmland. Republican lawmakers who hail from several of those districts spoke in support of the current arrangement, but public commenters said it glops rural and urban voters together.
“The rural population has its own priorities,” said Amy Scott-Stoltz, the president of the League of Women Voters of South Dakota. “The urban population has its own legislative priorities and deserves its own representation.”
The irregular, winding shapes of several of those districts prompted Brian Birch, who spoke at Thursday's committee meeting, to malign them as “gerrymandered,” referring to the centuries-old practice of drawing districts designed to pack opponents’ voters into one place, or scatter them across districts to minimize their voting power.
The committees settled on three proposals for the Sioux Falls legislative boundaries and decided to gather more public input before settling on one.
However, lawmakers finalized a map around Rapid City legislative districts that stretches from Pactola Lake, a mountainous hiking area, in the west to the city of Box Elder in the east.
Kellen Returns From Scout, who was representing the Great Plains Tribal Chairmen’s Association, urged the lawmakers to recognize that the Native American population has grown in the northern part of Rapid City in recent years and to draw a district that allows them to have a voice in elections.
“We could substantially influence the outcome of an election in Rapid City," he said. "We expect to be able to elect representatives there who make decisions that are responsive to our concerns."