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South Dakota legislature redistricts Clay County

Every 10 years, legislators redraw the legislative districts of South Dakota. This year, the State House and Senate differed on their approaches. The State House’s draft plan, along with other differences from the final plan, included splitting the city Vermillion into three separate districts. 

Lee Schoenbeck, District 5 legislator and president pro tempore of South Dakota’s Senate, said there are 35 legislative districts in South Dakota. Clay County and the city of Vermillion’s borders have moved around with redistricting over time.

“We have to look at drawing the 35 legislative boundaries including Clay County and the city of Vermillion, as is true for almost every county in the state,” Schoenbeck said. “One map looks like it was drawn by a monkey with a switchblade, flipping Vermillion into three different legislative districts, but that will never happen. That was the map that the House of Representatives’ committee came up with,” Shoenbeck said. 

Arthur Rusch, state senator for District 17, which includes Vermillion, said the redistricting process involves evenly splitting the population of South Dakota into 35 districts. The legislators find the target population for each district and try to match it or be within 5% of that number. This creates an issue for Clay and Turner counties, neither of which are sufficiently populous to warrant a full district of their own.

“What I was concerned about is the house drew up a plan that involved cutting Vermillion into three parts. That was just absolutely unacceptable. To us it would defeat any future likelihood of any legislators being elected from Vermillion if that happened,” Rusch said. 

The plan the legislature went with, in addition to not splitting Vermillion into three districts, also gives Yankton County and the Irene and Wakonda area more jurisdiction. Rusch said he was happy to work with state legislative Democrats to come up with an agreeable plan.

“What I was really excited about our plan in the Senate was that we worked with Democrats. We’re 32 Republicans and three Democrats, but we got a plan that they were agreeable to,” said Rusch. “I was really excited that we worked with Democrats on the reservation voting to come up with a thing that was agreeable to all of us, and I was really concerned that the House plans were designed to try and gerrymander the state. I think we got away from that and tried to come up with some fair results,” Rusch said. 

The majority of House and Senate members voted to advance the Senate plan for redistricting. In the House, the vote was 37 yes to 30 no. In the Senate, the vote was 30 yes to 2 no.