The biggest complaints about the recent special congressional election for the 1st District — other than who won or lost — came from those who arrived at the polls and couldn’t vote because the district lines had changed with the latest redistricting.
Or, if you prefer, the latest gerrymandering.
On our letters page, poll worker John Tecklenburg describes his observations in Charleston Precincts 8 and 9, both of which voted at Sanders-Clyde School off Morrison Drive. Generally speaking, white voters were in the 1st District and able to vote and black voters were in the 6th District and couldn’t.
The result, Mr. Tecklenburg says, was frustration by those who showed up at the polls unaware that district lines had been shifted and who, consequently, couldn’t cast their ballots.
And who can blame them for being irritated? A spokesman for the State Election Commission tells us that there is no notification of voters following changes in district lines made in the redistricting process.
Altogether, there are six split precincts in Charleston County and five in Berkeley County. With an average of 1,500 voters in each precinct, that’s potentially a lot of unhappy voters.
Election officials prefer that precincts not be split because of the confusion it creates for voters, and the complexity that results from having different ballots at the same polling place.
Minimizing split precincts serves the voters by maintaining geographic compactness. It’s better that people who live in the same neighborhoods get to vote in the same races. When that happens their commonality of interests is preserved.
But redistricting is done by the Legislature, and politics dominates the process.
For example, under redistricting, the 6th remains the state’s only black-majority congressional district. It has long been held by a Democrat. And the adjacent 1st District, with a large white majority, has long been held by a Republican.
Of course, we didn’t hear the same voter complaints from Dorchester, Colleton or Beaufort counties, since none of their precincts is split in the 1st District. So there are instances where compactness is honored at the precinct level. That ought to be a goal of the redistricting process.
Split precincts could be described as collateral damage of gerrymandering. The problems experienced in the recent election shows that voters are the real losers in the process.