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Public input requested in shaping districts

COLUMBIA -- South Carolina lawmakers want the public's help on a once-a-decade undertaking.

The state Senate Redistricting Subcommittee will host a public hearing Thursday at Trident Technical College to collect input from the Lowcountry on drawing new legislative and congressional districts.

The U.S. Constitution requires the state readjust the district boundaries after the census to make sure every individual's vote carries the same weight as another's. In other words, redrawing the lines makes equal the number of people who live in each district to reflect population shifts.

Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell, R-Charleston, invited public feedback.

"I urge citizens from Charleston and the surrounding counties to attend this public hearing and let us know their concerns about changing boundary lines," McConnell said in a statement. He is chairman of the panel.

The hearing will focus primarily on state Senate and congressional redistricting in Berkeley, Charleston, Colleton, Dorchester, Georgetown, Hampton, Jasper and Orangeburg counties.

Thursday's meeting is the last in a series of 10 regional forums that have been held across the state during the last three weeks. Similar efforts are under way by a House panel, focused on the state House's seats and the congressional districts. A meeting is planned April 14 in Summerville.

South Carolina has 170 legislators; 46 serve in the Senate and 124 serve in the House. The state picked up a seventh congressional seat because of the population growth in the last decade. Where it will be located is not yet decided.

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Lawmakers want to hear from the public to avoid splitting up communities, said Bobby Bowers, director of research and statistics for the Budget and Control Board.

They also want to try to draw the lines to keep counties and voting precincts intact, he said.

Whether the lawmakers incorporate the public's feedback will be considered when the U.S. Justice Department reviews the new district boundaries. The state must have the Justice Department sign off on the boundaries because of historical racial discrimination in the South.

While the goal is to ensure equality and fair balance in the election process, redistricting is also political by nature. The GOP-controlled Legislature will try to draw lines to reinforce Republican strongholds, according to political observers.

The map lines must be complete in time for the June 2012 elections.

Sen. Robert Ford, a Charleston Democrat and a member of the redistricting panel, said the public's feedback is valuable.

"We need public involvement in this process to ensure that the districts that are drawn are both fair and representative of the areas they encompass," Ford said in a statement. "Please let us hear your concerns."

Reach Yvonne Wenger at 803-926-7855.

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