A BETTER WAY OF VOTING
State (Charleston, South Carolina) January 9, 2001
they've brought more African-Americans to the State House,
race-based legislative districts have led many white lawmakers to
believe they represent only white people and caused many black
lawmakers to act as though they represent only black people. Thus,
our Legislature often seems more racially divided than our state.
And with lawmakers facing the task of again redrawing
district lines, the potential is there to intensify the problem.
That's why we were so glad to hear Sen. John Matthews,
immediate past chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus, saying last
week that he wants to find a way around drawing racially polarized
His solution is alternative systems such as
cumulative voting. In such cases, several legislators represent a
single, large district - say, Richland County. But voters get to, in
effect, pick which legislator will represent them. That allows
racial, philosophical or other minorities to be represented but
forces lawmakers to listen to all their constituents, because they
never know who will vote for, or against, them next time.
may seem a radical idea, but South Carolina had just such a system
after the Civil War. Whether they try this method or not, lawmakers
would do well to follow Sen. Matthews' overall advice, and seek to
use the redistricting process to bring people together rather than
driving them apart.
MATTHEWS WANTS TO DILUTE
By VALERIE BAUERLEIN
State (Charleston, SC) January 5, 2001
One of the legacies
of black- or white-dominated voting districts is that legislators
can take extreme positions without having to be sensitive to both
races, Sen. John Matthews said.
"I think it's exacerbating
the racial question and creating what I call a racial divide in this
state, which is creating some long-term problems," said Matthews,
A legislator representing a district that is
99 percent black or white can afford to be extreme, he said. A
legislator in a district that is 60/40 has to be more diplomatic.
Matthews cited the Confederate flag and education equity as
debates where legislators - black and white - have taken extreme
positions knowing they would not be hurt politically back home.
Consequently, when legislators start redrawing district
lines this spring, Matthews said he would like them to consider some
multi-member districts or cumulative voting methods to ensure
legislators are more diplomatic.
His comments are
significant because he is the most senior black senator and a
veteran of the drawings of legislative districts in the 1980s and
"People tend to take advantage and to seek
advantage with reapportionment because it will set the tone for the
next 10 years," he said.
He predicted a particularly bitter
fight on reapportionment, one that will end up in court.
Speaker of the House David Wilkins, R-Greenville, disagreed.
He said reapportionment is contentious by definition, since each
incumbent is scrambling to make sure he or she can be re-elected.
"Reapportionment is the one issue in the General Assembly
that every single member has an interest in," he said. "It is a
difficult issue, and it is contentious sometimes."
made his remarks during a roundtable discussion with other
legislators, sponsored by the South Carolina Press Association.
Rep. John Scott, D-Richland, disagreed with Matthews and
defended single-member districting, the system which allows one
legislator in each district, rather than several legislators elected
at large in one county or area.
Members of the Senate and
the House of Representatives have been elected to represent
single-member districts since 1974.
In the 1990s, black
Democrats and white Republicans joined together to create more
majority-black and majority-white districts. The consensus is that
alliance led to the consolidation of black voting power, and more
black legislators. It also led to more Republicans getting elected
in majority-white districts, and Republican control of the House and
Matthews said the key to reapportionment this time
will be to clearly define the factors used to draw the lines. The
courts have said race cannot be a factor, so the Legislature must
agree on what factors they do use.
Some states have
multi-member districts but most are in New England, said Karl Kurtz
director of state services of the National Conference of State
Southern states generally have to meet strict
guidelines on racial parity, a legacy of the civil rights movements
and the Voting Rights Act, Kurtz said.
districts have been curtailed because of court decisions because it
tends to dilute minority representation in multi-member districts,"
States have found that creating minority
districts resulted in safer seats for the other side, generally
Republicans, he said. "That's not an uncommon pattern."
Valerie Bauerlein covers state government
and the Legislature. You can reach her at (803) 771-8485 or by