We need to pass Constitutional Amendment T, which would create a new legislative redistricting commission in South Dakota. The measure would create a body of 9 members, no more than 3 of whom can be from the same political party, and 3 of whom cannot be registered with any party.
First off, consider that the ratio of Republican to Democratic registrations in South Dakota is about 6 to 4. That's according to last week's tally by the SD Secretary of State. That Pubs outnumber Dems in this state isn't news, of course, but the way these numbers play out in representation is way out of kilter. With a legislative edge of 85 Pubs and 20 Dems, the partisan ratio in Pierre favors the GOP by 4.5 to 1. Even if all of SD's 110,00 registered Independents voted Republican, the ratio wouldn't come close to that. There is no way that the legislative split comes close to reflecting the partisan make-up of South Dakota.
Why the disparity? I think it's all about gerrymandering. Under current law, SD's legislature is required to redraw legislative districts every 10 years, after the U.S. Census Bureau releases its findings. The last redraw occurred in 2011, done by a Republican-dominated legislature. At the time, GOP reps on the team that created the map told the Pierre Capital Journal that "this process isn't as partisan as it may appear at times" and that claims of gerrymandering were "bogus." Badly outnumbered Dems for their part claimed otherwise, one of them saying that "the map virtually eliminates competitive races in the Sioux Falls area."
My hope, stated here last week, that passage of Constitutional Amendment V, which would eliminate partisan elections in South Dakota altogether, is still intact, of course. That would make the redistricting matter moot. But given the ferocious responses by SD's leading Republicans, Senator Thune and Governor Daugaard, to that ballot measure (more on that in another column), you can bet that the full weight of South Dakota's GOP will be thrown against it. Passage of such a revolutionary overhaul of our state's electoral, executive and legislative structures will be tough, considering that self-preservation is at stake for South Dakota Republicans and their longstanding grip on the state's public affairs. This other, redistricting amendment, on the other hand. will be much harder to oppose, given the fairness of its structure and the political distribution of the commission's members. It would certainly eliminate the kind of squabbling that redistricting always engenders.
I look forward to seeing how the GOP will engage this particular amendment, mainly because if they're convinced that the "process isn't as partisan as it may appear at times," they should have no trouble turning said process over to a commission that can't be dominated by their party. In a state where GOP registrations amount to less than half of the electorate, there's something seriously awry when more than 80% of the state's elected reps are Republicans. An independent, partisan-neutral redistricting commission might not be able to fix it, but at least no one can claim that gerrymandering is to blame.