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  • Writer's pictureMac Deford

Voting Rights and South Carolina’s First Congressional District

Updated: Dec 24, 2023

Reflecting on the long-standing struggle for voting rights in the United States, I am reminded of the profound insights in Walter Lord’s “The Past That Would Not Die,” (1) a book by my “Uncle Walter.” Lord’s book poignantly addresses the severe injustices faced by African American voters, including literacy tests, poll taxes, and various forms of intimidation and violence, all aimed at disenfranchising them. 


Today, tactics to suppress Black voters might be more covert compared to the overt and violent methods of the 1960s, yet their impact on American democracy remains equally corrosive to the fabric of the United States. The tune of past racial disenfranchisement and bigotry persists in America today. During the Civil Rights movement, our nation saw defiance against the U.S. Supreme Court’s rulings on matters of racial equality, as exemplified by former Senator James Eastland of Mississippi in 1955, where he famously told an audience that “you are obligated to defy it” when referring to the Court’s order to integrate public schools. Today, we find parallels in the recent actions of the Alabama state legislature, which openly defied the Court’s mandate to create a second Black-majority congressional district.


I am deeply troubled by the Republicans’ role in further dividing America along racial lines. While not all of these actions stem from racist intentions – many, I believe, are politically motivated – the outcome remains the same. Those engaging in modern racial gerrymandering are sowing the seeds of division, fostering mutual mistrust and disdain for American politics. 


South Carolina’s First Congressional District


South Carolina’s First Congressional District (SC01) has been a political battleground lately. Historically a Republican stronghold from 1980 to 2016, the district saw a shift when Democrat Joe Cunningham narrowly won in 2018, followed by his narrow defeat in 2020. These close results transformed SC01 into a contested swing district, prompting Republicans to take illegal action. 


During the 2021 redistricting, the GOP-led state legislature aimed to strengthen Republican influence and eliminate the swinging nature of the district. Their strategy involved incorporating all of Beaufort and Berkeley counties and a significant portion of Dorchester County because they were strong Republican-performing counties. 


Here was the problem: studies indicated that a district with a 21-24% African American population would keep SC01 as a swing district, whereas a composition of around 17% would produce the Republican tilt that GOP state legislatures sought. After redrawing the lines, the African American population in the Charleston County portion of SC01 was around 23.17%, amounting to approximately 20% district-wide. To achieve their desired Republican tilt, Republicans moved 30,243 African Americans – or about 62% of the African American population – from SC01 to Congressional District 6, effectively silencing the voices of our fellow citizens because of the color of their skin. 


In January 2023, the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina found that SC01 was illegally racially gerrymandered. To date, Representative Nancy Mace has neither acknowledged nor condemned this injustice. She actually benefitted heavily from the illegal redistricting in 2022, when she won her reelection by nearly 14%. 



Contrary to assertions without basis in truth, SC01 is not currently a ‘swing’ or a ‘purple’ district as Nancy Mace and others may taunt. The GOP-led state legislature made sure of that when they exiled 30,000 African American voters out of SC01.


What Does This Mean for 2024?


Contrary to assertions without basis in truth, SC01 is not currently a ‘swing’ or a ‘purple’ district as Nancy Mace and others may taunt. The GOP-led state legislature made sure of that when they exiled 30,000 African American voters out of SC01. While the ‘swing district’ label may serve as a compelling narrative for fundraising purposes, calling SC01 a swing district fails to recognize the unjust exclusion of African American voters and the consequences of racial gerrymandering. The SC01 lines were deliberately drawn to secure the district for the Republican Party, and ignoring this fact does a great disservice to those affected by these illegal manipulations. 


I anticipate the U.S. Supreme Court will render its opinion in Alexander v. The South Carolina State Conference of the NAACP (2) in early January 2024. If the Court upholds the lower court’s ruling, we can expect new, potentially fairer district lines for the 2024 election. However, the Court could also remand the case back to the lower court, delaying any changes until after 2024. In the worst-case scenario, a reversal of the lower court’s ruling would maintain the current lines until the next redistricting. 


Regardless of the Court’s decisions, I am committed to running a competitive campaign under the current district lines and defeating Nancy Mace next year. Over the past several months, my campaign has been focused on voter outreach, encouraging citizens to engage in our political process, and expressing what I have to offer the Lowcountry. Our efforts have already paid off with meaningful crossover support, positive outreach from younger generations, and support from community leaders.


I am dedicated to serving all citizens in SC01, regardless of political affiliation. We have a lot of work to do for the district and our country, and it’s time we begin electing professionals dedicated to the public good and prosperity of the United States.



References

1. Lord, Walter. The Past That Would Not Die. 1965.

2. S.C. State Conf. of NAACP v. Alexander, 649 F. Supp. 3d 177 (D.S.C. 2023)




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