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Advocates: SD's Redistricting Needs to Catch Up with Diversity

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Monday, December 13, 2021   

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - When South Dakota voters head to the polls next year, they'll decide on candidates hoping to serve newly drawn legislative districts. Advocates for people of color in the state say, despite a little progress, the process needs improvements.

South Dakota lawmakers finished redistricting last month, with Republicans leading the effort because of their legislative majorities. Democrats say the new lines will create more competitive races, but they've raised concerns about gerrymandering.

Taneeza Islam, executive director of the group South Dakota Voices for Peace, said cities like Sioux Falls are becoming more diverse - but the Legislature is more than 90% white.

"And so, it becomes even more important to understand the impact of representation in not only state government," said Islam, "but also local government, which was going through a redistricting process as well."

Her group was founded about four years ago to advocate for immigrant, refugee and Muslim communities.

In Rapid City, tribal advocates secured a redistricting win, getting much of the Native American population into a single district. Prior to the vote, there was GOP infighting over whether to stick with maps that favored the party.

Islam said that's why the state needs to take politics out of the process in future redistricting. And for areas that are seeing more diversity, she said government outreach needs to be more accommodating.

"All of our public meetings are in English," said Islam. "All of the marketing for these public meetings are in English. So, that really, you know, excludes multilingual communities."

Islam's group was part of a coalition that circulated petitions to get independent redistricting on next year's ballot. The effort may have failed, but she said it brought new attention to the issue.

Moderate Republicans say the approved maps meet standards under the Voting Rights Act, which make them less likely to face legal challenges.




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