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Redistricting - What is it? Why do we do it? How is it done?: South Dakota

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Every 10 years the U.S. Census Bureau conducts a census of the population of the United States. One of the primary purposes of the census is to divide states up into districts so "we the people" are equally represented in our government. At least every decade, the districts are reevaluated to make sure that everyone has a voice. Sometimes, redistricting is done more often than every 10 years. Redistricting happens at all levels - from the U.S. House of Representatives (for states with more than 1 representative) to your state and sometimes to your city or county governments.

State laws govern how each state redistricts.

Federal Requirements

While the law does not provide a checklist of criteria, the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act provide principles that are expected.

  • Compactness - having the minimum possible distance between all parts of a district (circles are the ultimate compact shape but squares and hexagons are common)
  • Contiguity - all parts of a district join with another part of the district (an example is the contiguous United States leaves out Alaska, Hawaii, and other off-shore territories such as American Samoa as they do not touch another state)
  • Preservation of counties and other political subdivisions - a district boundary should not divide a county or city (cities such as New York City or Los Angeles may themselves have multiple congressional districts in which case, districts can be drawn breaking a city or county up)
  • Preservation of communities of interest - when cities have multiple districts, geographic areas with common political interests should not be broken up even if city or county lines divide the community - this does not refer to partisan interests (common interests may be a neighborhood built over an abandoned mine who are concerned about future ecological impacts of the mine)
  • Preservation of cores of prior districts - districts should be maintained as much as possible to maintain continuity of representation
  • Avoiding pairing incumbents - in future elections, a new district should not have two incumbents running against each other

Some criteria have been added since 2000 and adopted by some but not all states:

  • Prohibition on favoring or disfavoring an incumbent, candidate, or party - in theory, districts should not favor any party but this turns out to be harder to in reality than in theory
  • Prohibition on using partisan data - incumbent residences, election results, party registrations, socio-economic data should not be used when drawing districts
  • Competitiveness - districts should be drawn where candidates from all parties have equal chances of winning an election (if people voted strictly by party, all candidates would be equal)

Census Data for Redistricting

Here is a video that shows you how to find the data used for redistriction.

South Dakota Redistricting


This is easy - the entire state is our district. Since we only have one representative, there is no need for districts. If we gained population, this could change based on the decennial census. There are 435 seats in the House of Representatives. Each state is guaranteed 1 seat but beyond that, the seats are given based on population. 

State Legislature

There are 35 districts that make up the South Dakota legislature. Each district has one senator and two representatives. The districts are drawn by the state legislature in South Dakota. Districts can only be drawn up after the decennial census. The 2020 census will lead to redistricting activities in 2021 and new district boarders in the 2022 election.

  • Equal population - this criteria is quite strict so each district must have the same population "as is practicable" (often defined as within 1%)
  • Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act requires that plans do not discriminate against minority populations. Shanon and Todd counties are considered "covered jurisdictions" by the act and so South Dakota must submit its redistricting plans to the Department of Justice or to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia for review
    • If the state is ordered to redraw the districts and fails to do so (as happened in 2001), the federal court will draw district lines for the state
  • Districts should be contiguous and compact
  • Communities of interest are protected
  • Each district has one senator and two representatives (the districts are not different for senators and representatives)
    • Districts #26 and #28  are subdivided into two districts for election of representatives (e.g. all of #26 elects a senator and #26A elects 1 representative and #26B elects 1 representative)
Public Input:

In 2011, the legislative committee responsible for redistricting held a series of public meetings.

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