South Dakota's redistricting committee tour ends in Sioux Falls, to debate over gerrymandering
The three-day whirlwind tour by South Dakota's legislative redistricting committee concluded on Wednesday in the state's largest city, where decade-old maps have drawn accusations of unfairness for dividing the city's vote.
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. —There was little agreement between the two.
One thought South Dakota suffered from a brain drain. The other said all her children had moved back to raise families.
One called the 2011 state Legislature maps "a textbook case" of gerrymandering. The other said Republicans just get elected more in the state.
But both Galyeen Ridemann and Tamera Weis, voters in the Sioux Falls region, told a legislative redistricting committee on Wednesday, Oct. 13, at the USD Community College in northwestern Sioux Falls essentially the same thing: That the current maps stretch too much non-Sioux Falls into Sioux Falls to be fair to voters.
"The rest of those areas have far too much farmland and far too much agricultural land to be considered Sioux Falls," said Weis, of Chancellor, South Dakota. "The city limits of Sioux Falls should be the border that we follow."
"If you want to save this state, you need to stop the brain drain," said Ridemann, "And gerrymandering is doing that to us."
In the largest public attendance thus far at the committee's three-day tour, which has crisscrossed from Rapid City to a casino on the Rosebud Indian Reservation up to the prairie pothole region, the Sioux Falls meeting on Wednesday blew once again what has been this redistricting season's Gjallarhorn: separating rural and urban voters.
Criticism has mostly centered in Sioux Falls, the politically purple city that went for Gov. Kristi Noem's 2018 rival, Democratic State Sen. Billie Sutton, in the last gubernatorial election. The current map, critics say, finds large swaths of often Republican areas of rural Minnehaha County, as well as bedroom communities in Lincoln County, sandwiched with slices of Sioux Falls, effectively neutering the city's vote.
On Wednesday, Amy Scott-Stoltz, the president of the South Dakota League of Women Voters and driver behind a ballot initiative to hand over redistricting to a nonpartisan board, congratulated the committee for four proposals that she said were a "great improvement" for the city relative 10 years ago.
But Scott-Stoltz opened up a new line of attack on Aberdeen Republican Rep. Drew Dennert's so-called " Grouse " map, which almost surgically follows the Sioux Falls city boundary to form a conurbation area, and has attracted support in more rural regions over the last three days.
Along with " Falcon ," a map authored by Sen. Bolin, R-Canton, Scott-Stolz accused "Grouse" of "packing the urban population into 7 districts."
Instead, she argued, the " Blackbird " map, presented by Sen. Casey Crabtree, R-Madison, which incorporated bedroom communities and gives the Sioux Falls' voting area 8 districts, more faithfully represented the city's prominence within the overall state voting landscape.
Wednesday saw two meetings in Sioux Falls, with the second underway at deadline. But the public event drew from voters outside the city, as well.
Kurt Laskowsky, a voter from Centerville, South Dakota noted he'd previously lived in northern Virginia and witnessed the deleterious effect on a rural county's vote when lawmakers carved up the district into two, or even three districts. He called for maps to "make Turner County whole."
"[Otherwise] they wind up being ignored," said Laskowsky.
But as has been the case, every earnest call for keeping counties whole was immediately followed by a call to do the opposite. A Yankton voter, Roger Meyer, opposed a plan by "grouse" to join his city with downriver Vermillion in a single district. Instead, he called for moving west to Tabor.
"There's a real community of interest there," said Meyer. "I think it has much more connection than does northeast Clay County."
And, once again, the dozen of so legislators patiently listened, some scribbling notes.