One Person, One Vote. Where does South Dakota draw district the line?

Representation Matters! Get the Redistricting Toolkit for Community Organizers, Advocates, and Changemakers.

The idea of “one person, one vote” is one of democracy’s greatest strengths. At the voting booth, each person stands equal to the next, no matter what their background, no matter where they live, no matter how much money they make.

Our democracy, after all, is strongest when all voices are heard.

Key to achieving this democratic ideal is redistricting, or the redrawing of the districts that make up the legislative maps in South Dakota, a process that occurs every 10 years.

Redistricting is simple enough to grasp when you compare it to other things we replace every so often, like, say, an old car. When it just isn’t working like it used to or doesn’t meet your needs anymore, it’s time to think about getting a new model.

Similarly, redistricting should lead to new and improved electoral maps that reflect the growth and demographic changes that South Dakota communities undergo with time. Every 10 years, after the U.S. Census determines how our communities have expanded and contracted, the South Dakota Legislature gets the task of redrawing fair maps that are inclusive of everyone.

Except it doesn’t always quite work that way, because, unfortunately, redistricting isn’t as easy as buying a new car.

When redistricting is done fairly, it accurately reflects population changes and racial diversity, and is used to equitably allocate representation our state legislature. When politicians use redistricting to manipulate the outcome of elections, however, it’s called gerrymandering — a practice that undermines democracy and stifles the voice of voters. And that happens more often than you might think.

But together, we can help make the process more fair and equitable for everyone.

GET YOUR REDISTRICTING TOOLKIT

1. What is redistricting and why is it done?

Q.What is redistricting and why is it done?
A.

Redistricting is the process of redrawing electoral district boundaries. It is meant to ensure that every person has fair representation at the local, state, and federal levels. Census data that are collected every 10 years are used to draw new districts with about the same number of people. This accounts for the ways that populations have changed and moved across the states and districts.

State legislators are required to take those numbers and draw districts that protect the value of every vote - one person, one vote. The state legislature modifies the boundaries (lines) of the districts for various elected officials so that each elected office represents close to the same number of people. The purpose of redrawing districts is to rebalance following population changes on the principle of one person, one vote and every vote has the same weight.

2. Why is redistricting important?

Q.Why is redistricting important?
A.

How district lines are drawn plays a vital role in our communities and affects the daily lives of all South Dakotans. It influences who runs for public office and who is elected. Elected representatives make decisions that are important to our lives, from ensuring safety in schools to adopting immigration policies. The people that live in a district can then in turn influence whether elected officials feel obligated to respond to a particular community’s needs. Redistricting can keep people with common interests, cultures, languages, and histories bundled together so they can effectively advocate for themselves and make their voices heard in local affairs. Once drawn, these district boundaries are in place for the next 10 years, and their policy impacts can last well beyond that.

3. Who draws the district lines?

Q.Who draws the district lines?
A.

In 2021, the South Dakota state legislature is responsible for drawing the state’s new legislative districts. The Legislative Redistricting Committee, chaired by Sen. Mary Duvall and Rep. Spencer Gosch, leads the process. The committee will host public hearings and draft the statewide map for approval first by the committee and then by both chambers of the legislature. Gov. Kristi Noem must approve the maps.

4. What factors should legislators consider when drawing up the boundaries for each district?

Q.What factors should legislators consider when drawing up the boundaries for each district?
A.

When drawing up the boundaries of each district, legislators must comply with the U.S. and South Dakota Constitution as well as the Federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 and South Dakota law.

First and foremost, redistricting must adhere to the principle of one person, one vote. In other words, the idea is that individuals should have equal representation in voting with each vote counting the same. The Equal Protections Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution requires that legislative districts are substantially equal in population. There should not be large disparities in population between districts.

Second, the boundaries of the districts must be drawn in a way to ensure that the resulting maps comply with the federal Voting Rights Act, which prohibits the boundaries of the districts (maps) from discriminating against citizens on the basis of race, color, or membership in a language minority group.

In addition, legislators are also guided by traditional redistricting principles like contiguity (all parts of the district are connected to each other), compactness (avoiding unnecessarily strange shapes), keeping communities of interest intact, respecting existing political boundaries (e.g. county and city lines), and competitiveness. In South Dakota, Senate Bill 80 passed in 2021, says that redistricting guidelines must follow and respect “geographical and political boundaries, specifically, counties, reservations, and municipalities.”

5. When do those new districts take effect?

Q.When do those new districts take effect?
A.

The new maps will take effect in 2022 and will be in place for the next 10 years. The long-lasting effect of redistricting is one of the most important reasons for communities to be involved.

6. Rules of Redistricting

Q.Rules of Redistricting
A.

State legislatures have an obligation to ensure fair and equal representation for all people, upholding the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection and complying with the requirements of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

By law, redistricting must follow these two criteria:

Equal Population – Each district should have roughly the same total population. The total population is divided by the total number of legislative districts to calculate the “ideal” number for each district. Ideally, the smallest district would be no more than 5 percent below the “ideal” district size and the largest district no more than 5 percent above. This range, however, can be adjusted as long as the deviation is no more than 10 percent. The principle of “one person, one vote” is fundamental to our democracy, and is embedded in the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and means that every resident’s vote should carry equal weight.

The Voting Rights Act – This law prohibits voting practices or procedures that discriminate on the basis of race, ethnicity, or language. This means, among other things, that line drawers cannot intentionally or unintentionally create maps that dilute the voting power of racial, ethnic, and language minorities.

Courts can rule districts to be discriminatory if they dilute the votes of racial, ethnic, and language minorities. This discrimination is referred to as gerrymandering, the manipulation of district lines to improperly affect political power, and commonly happens in two ways:

Cracking refers to fragmenting concentrations of minority populations among multiple districts to ensure that they have no effective voice in any one district

Packing refers to concentrating as many individuals from a minority group as possible in as few districts as possible to limit the total number of districts in which they have influence

In addition to adherence to required criteria of equal population and the Voting Rights Act, the following redistricting principles are also considered:

Preserve Communities of Interest: A jurisdiction’s communities of interest are its overlapping sets of neighborhoods, networks, and groups that share interests, priorities, views, cultures, histories, languages, and values. There is no single, simple, concrete definition of a “community of interest.” In practice, a holistic picture of the communities of interest in the jurisdiction takes shape only through extensive public testimony from community members. This concept is one of the most important tools a community can use to preserve their community’s ability to stay in a single district.

Be Compact: Compactness refers to the shape of the district. It describes boundaries that are drawn closely and neatly packed together unless there are good reasons such as Voting Rights Act compliance or following oddly shaped boundaries, like city boundaries or rivers.

Be Contiguous: Contiguity means that the boundaries of a district are a single, uninterrupted shape and that all parts of the district are connected to each other.

Follow Existing Political Subdivisions and/or Natural Boundaries: This means maps minimize splitting cities and counties, or crossing natural or urban boundaries (rivers, mountains, highways, etc.).

Respect Existing Legislative Boundaries: This means drawing new districts as close to existing lines as possible or preserving the cores of prior districts to provide continuity of representation

Avoiding pairing incumbents: This refers to avoiding districts that would create contests between current elected officeholders. 

7. Stay informed on the redistricting process

Q.Stay informed on the redistricting process
A.

You can stay up to date with the redistricting process by keeping tabs on the state of South Dakota's Redistricting Committee. By doing that, you can track details about the redistricting process and the House & Senate Joint Legislative Redistricting Committee hearings including:

  • When and where the committee will be meeting
  • Agendas that will tell you the specific topics being discussed ahead of time
  • Minutes and audio recordings of the hearing that you can review on your own time
  • Important documents that were discussed in the hearings such as written public testimony and legal briefings
  • Answers to frequently asked questions about the redistricting process
  • Court cases that are relevant to redistricting in South Dakota
  • The current map of legislative districts

8. Get involved in the redistricting process

Q.Get involved in the redistricting process
A.

The best way to ensure fairness in the redistricting process is to get involved. Your presence makes a difference!

The House & Senate Joint Legislative Redistricting Committee hearings in Pierre are open to the public to provide testimony.

Attend any of the meetings in-person or listen online.

The committee also will hold a series of public listening sessions meant specifically for community feedback from Oct. 11-15 in Rapid City, Mission, Mobridge, Aberdeen, Watertown, and Sioux Falls. These meetings are an opportunity to engage with the elected officials overseeing the redistricting process and is your chance to ask questions, comment on any proposed maps, and advocate for district boundaries that are not drawn in a discriminatory matter and protect historically disenfranchised communities.

Use social media

Social media is a great way to directly engage with your legislators who have pages as well as fellow activists. Use your platform to raise community awareness of about redistricting. If you see your friends posting content during session, be sure to retweet and like their commentary! It will help ensure your message gets across, too.

Make your voice heard through the written word

Writing a letter to the editor of your local newspaper can be an extremely effective way to influence public opinion and shape legislators’ views about the redistricting process. Letters to the editor reach a large audience and are often monitored by public officials. Plus, they’re fun to read. The “Letter to the Editor” section is often one of the most widely read sections of the newspaper!

  • Keep it short. Most newspapers have strict limits on the length of letters and have limited space to publish them. Typically aim for 200 words.
  • Make it personal. Share your own story or experiences – don’t worry about trying to be an expert. Start by talking about who you are, then describe a problem or concern, then talk about a solution.
  • Include your contact information. Many newspapers will only print a letter to the editor after calling the author to verify their identity and address. Newspapers will not give out that information, and will usually only print your name and city should your letter be published.
  • Sign it and send it to one of your local newspapers.

Get your friends involved, too!

Redistricting affects everyone in South Dakota. You can help by mobilizing your friends and neighbors to attend public hearings and present a united front. This will signal that many people are paying attention to the outcomes — too many to ignore. Share these resources, too!

9. Attend redistricting hearings in your area

Q.Attend redistricting hearings in your area
A.

When thinking about engaging in redistricting, it is important to understand how the process unfolds. Here are some key dates to remember.

Monday, Oct. 11

  • Rapid City – 8 a.m. MT (Black Hills State University | Room 112, 4300 Cheyenne Blvd., Box Elder)
  • Mission – 4 p.m. CT (Sinte Gleska University | Room TBD, 101 Antelope Lake Circle)

Tuesday, Oct. 12

  • Mobridge – 8 a.m. CT (Wrangler Inn | Conference Room, 820 W. Grand Crossing)
  • Aberdeen – 1 p.m. CT (Aberdeen Recreation & Cultural Center | Room TBD, 225 3rd Ave. SE)
  • Watertown – 6 p.m. CT (Lake Area Technical College | LATC Student Center, 1201 Arrow Ave. NE)

Wednesday, Oct. 13

  • Sioux Falls – 2 p.m. CT (Southeast Technical College | FADM 186, 4801 N. Career Ave.)
  • Sioux Falls – 6 p.m. CT (Southeast Technical College | FADM 186, 4801 N. Career Ave.)

More information on each session is available online. 

If you’re attending one of the redistricting committee meetings or public listening sessions, you have the opportunity to share with legislators your thoughts on the redistricting process and what is most important to you.

Use the prompts below to prepare your testimony.

Introduction. Introduce yourself and the reason you are there.

Example: “My name is _____. I’ve been a resident of [community] for ____ years. I’m here with a group of my neighbors. I would like the Committee to keep my community together.”

Description of your community. Describe your community by including social and economic demographics, and narrative information about its history and culture. Describe what connects the people and why it’s important that they be kept together. 

Example: “Many new immigrants first move to the north side of town when they come to the city. In the 1980s, it was mostly Southeast Asian. There was a small shopping district where people come in from all over to get Asian groceries and other goods. Along the main road of that area, there is a parade each year celebrating Lunar New Year.”

Include data. Use reliable sources such as the U.S. Census Bureau as another way to describe your community and what neighbors have in common. This will make the case stronger. 

Example: “My community is working class, low to median income families mostly renters. The median household income is $32,000. Many of our residents moved from here to build a new life.”

Description of how your community is different or alike from the communities around you. Highlighting community issues in personal stories and written narratives helps demonstrate the need for elected officials who understand and respond to community needs. Share stories and data about community concerns and if you feel like your voices have been heard and your needs have been met in the past.

Example: “A few years ago, my neighbors and I started complaining about the lack of affordable healthy food. We found that there were 10 liquor stores, and the closest grocery store was almost two miles away. Like another nearby community, people in our community are working hard to bring a food market in.”

Thank you. Restate your goals, acknowledge your community members and partners in attendance, and thank the members. 

Example: “As a proud South Dakotan, I’m urging fairness in the 2021 districting process. Let’s make sure that we have the best and most representational state government in the nation. Thank you for your time.

10. Keep in touch with us

Q.Keep in touch with us
A.

Catch pertintent updates on redistricting on social media or by way of email. The choice is yours.