Letters: State’s redistricting plan isn’t partisan

The Legislative Redistricting Committee has been working since last March to create new legislative districts in compliance with state and federal laws, federal court rulings and the wishes of South Dakotans. We are grateful for public testimony given throughout the state and appreciate the meetings sponsored by the Citizens Redistricting Commission.

Many people wanted existing districts to remain intact as much as possible. Most didn't want small counties broken up or large cities to dominate large rural areas. Neighboring towns such as Chamberlain/Oacoma and Pierre/Fort Pierre wanted to remain in the same district as their neighbor.

The committee adopted a redistricting plan on Sept. 27 that the full legislature will consider in a special session Oct. 24.

South Dakota saw a statewide population increase of 59,276 over the last 10 years. Twenty-five counties grew in numbers and 41 declined. Districts with decreased populations had to be made larger geographically and those with increased population had to be made smaller.

Three options were presented to the redistricting committee. Option A was presented by Rep. Val Rausch and me. Option B was presented by Rep. Mitch Fargen. Option C would have divided the state into 70 single member districts and was not approved due to past rejection by the legislature. 

Options A and B, proposed by members of two different political parties, were very similar. Of the 22 districts outside the Sioux Falls and Rapid City areas, 14 of the proposed districts were the same in both options. Differences arose in only eight districts. Compromise between the two plans occurred when drawing lines in the counties of Day, Hamlin, Bon Homme, Jerauld, Davison, and Aurora.

In one plan, Day County was split. Hamlin County was split in the other. The committee found a way to keep both counties unbroken while following all the rules. Compromise was also key when the necessary splitting of Bon Homme County was changed to make a more compact district. Jerauld County was combined with Davison and Aurora Counties instead of attaching it much farther south and west in a very vast Woonsocket-Winner-Wagner district.

A major difference between Option A and Option B involved Brown County. Option B created only two districts in the county of 36,531 people. In comparison, Lincoln County has a population of 44,828 and is in parts of five legislative districts, giving people there representation from five senators and 10 representatives. Many on the committee believed that Brown County should have three districts, giving them representation from three senators and six representatives. A variation of Option A was approved, giving Brown County influence in three districts.

The committee adopted plan is good for South Dakota because it complies with state and federal laws, federal court rulings and the wishes of South Dakotans. Partisan politics didn't play a role in the redistricting process. With a majority of Republicans on the committee, we easily could have redistricted to our favor. However, I am proud to say the plan is what is best for all South Dakotans.

Senator Russell Olson, Wentworth

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