COLUMBIA --- A couple of weeks of fast-paced approval for drawing new election district lines has become a crawl as the South Carolina state Senate debates plans for U.S. House districts, and the senate's top leader is looking for magic to strike.
Today's debate on those U.S. House lines is shaping up nothing like the speedy work that put redistricting plans for 124 state House seats and 46 in the Senate on Gov. Nikki Haley's desk last week. While the Statehouse plans took a couple of hours to pass, the Senate couldn't finish work on what appeared to be a minor amendment after hours of debate Thursday.
Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell expects days of debate on the dozen amendments already filed and many votes.
"If I can't get enough votes to pass something, then we're just wasting our time," the Charleston Republican said.
McConnell said it's necessary to pick up the hints of "where the votes are and where that magic map is. ... I'm hopeful that somewhere in all those amendments is something which is going to gather enough votes. But we won't know until they square off in a few fights on the floor."
Redistricting is a once-a-decade process needed to make sure political district lines reflect population changes revealed by the U.S. Census. South Carolina is picking up a seventh U.S. House seat -- something the Palmetto State had years ago, before population fell in 1930.
The Senate and House already have sent Haley maps for their 170 seats.
Whatever lawmakers decide, the proposed maps for South Carolina and other Southern states require federal approval under the Voting Rights Act because of their history of inequitable treatment of black voters.
For now, the Senate is working off a draft plan that would anchor that new district in Florence and Horry counties. It also includes Darlington, Lee, Marlboro, Dillon and Marion counties and part of Sumter county -- much of the state's Pee Dee region.
Chesterfield and Georgetown counties want into the new district, too, and McConnell said that's one of the two biggest fights to be dealt with.
Fights also are brewing over which counties are split into what districts. Spartanburg County lawmakers argue they should be kept in on one district and not split between two. That's an argument that Greenville County, the state's largest in population, won, apparently at Spartanburg County's expense.
And cutting up counties at all is a big problem for Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, who said county lines define communities that have common interests -- a key element of federal redistricting law. "The most logical indicator of that is county lines," Davis said. "We need to go with the plan that has the least number of county splits."
He's not optimistic about wrapping debate anytime soon. "I think there's a fairly rough road ahead," Davis said.