South Dakota redistricting to focus on cities, reservations

June 1, 2021 GMT

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — South Dakota lawmakers tasked with redrawing legislative districts indicated Tuesday they will focus on the state’s two largest cities, as well as Native American reservations.

Both the House and Senate committees that are redrawing legislative boundaries decided to create sub-committees tasked with gathering input from Sioux Falls, Rapid City and “tribal areas.” Lawmakers are readying to receive data from the 2020 Census, develop boundary lines for legislative districts and approve them by Dec. 1. But the districts in urban areas and Indian reservations could have the most hiccups, according to Matt Frame, a lawyer with the Legislative Research Council that is guiding the redistricting process.

Lawmakers must ensure that racial minority groups receive adequate representation in state government in order to stay in compliance with federal law. That could create a challenge in areas where mostly Native American people live, especially because those areas have a greater share of younger people who cannot yet register to vote and factors like poverty or physical distance can make it more difficult for people to register to vote. The legislative boundaries must be determined on total population, not voter registration.

Kellen Returns From Scout, a staff member with the Great Plains Tribal Chairmen’s Association, called for lawmakers to hold government-to-government consultations with tribes as they draw the new boundaries. He said it was important to avoid splitting reservation boundaries.

But lawmakers expressed confusion on how to initiate tribal consultations and where to hold them. Democrat Sen. Troy Heinert, who is a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, underscored the importance of having the consultations but acknowledged the process differs by the tribe.

Still, OJ Semans, co-founder of a Native American voting rights advocacy group called Four Directions that has sued the state in the past, sounded upbeat at the outset of redistricting, noting that the acknowledgement from lawmakers of special consideration for the tribes showed “we’ve come a long, long ways.”

The state is expecting to receive data from the U.S. Census Bureau in August. That could give lawmakers a tight timeline to propose new maps, host public input meetings and finalize the new boundaries. The Legislature is scheduled to convene Nov. 8 for a special session to approve the new districts.

Republican Sen. Jim Bolin said after the state received census data, “The process will gear up very intentionally and very rapidly.”