Delegation passes redistricting for Sumter school board

County moves to 9 single-member districts for trustees and majority elections


Local delegation members have passed redistricting measures for Sumter school board seats that create nine single-member districts, all of which are up for election in November, and a majority system for winning seats.

State Sen. Thomas McElveen, D-Sumter, spoke Friday on the proposed legislation that was passed by all seven members of the Sumter County Legislative Delegation on Thursday in the General Assembly in Columbia. That legislation now just awaits Gov. Henry McMaster's signature before becoming law.

The plan and nine-seat map for Sumter School District's Board of Trustees introduced in late April were approved without any changes, and only a couple amendments were added this week, he said.

Those amendments include that in the first election this November, the top-five vote getters will receive four-year terms and the next four seat-winners will get two-year terms in order to stagger the nine seats initially. After 2024, all nine trustees will serve four-year terms.

The change from two at-large seats to nine single-member district seats comes as the end of legislation passed in 2017. In the wake of a financial crisis in the school district that revealed $6.2 million in overspending in the 2016 audit, the Sumter County Legislative Delegation expanded the countywide school board from seven to nine voting members. The two at-large seats that were added were first appointed by the state legislators then up for election in 2018.

As the Sumter senator has said previously, McElveen thinks the redistricting process and new electoral boundaries reflect the county demographically and geographically.

"I think if you look at the map, it just makes more sense from the perspective of having communities of interest represented and contained in those districts," McElveen said. "As I said before, I think there is truly a downtown member, what I would call a South Sumter member, a Rembert-area member, there should be a Pinewood area member, Mayesville/Shiloh member, and so forth."

He added there is representation from the rural areas and also the City of Sumter, which is where a large concentration of the population lives.

The change from a plurality to a majority system for winning seats makes local school board elections more like other elections, McElveen said.

In a plurality system, simply the candidate who earns the most votes is elected, meaning a candidate can be supported by less than a majority of voters and still win. For example, in the November 2018 election, the first that saw two countywide "at-large" seats on the school board on the ballot, in a crowded field the top two vote-getters -- Frank Baker and Shawn Ragin -- received only 24.5% and 18.4% of the vote, respectively, based on previous reporting from The Sumter Item.

In the majority system, a candidate must receive more than 50% of the vote to serve in office. If no candidate achieves that benchmark, the top two-vote getters go to a runoff.

The second amendment, which is also just short-term and for the initial, upcoming election, says board members will take office after Dec. 31, instead of as early as the first Monday after election results are certified in November.

McElveen said that measure was taken in case there is a large turnover with board members.

"That would allow some time to transition in the event you do have a lot of change," he said. "But, then after this election, it will go back to the Monday after the election is certified."

Some districts are larger than others by size because they have lower population densities and must draw from a larger geographic area, he added.

Filing dates for the nonpartisan Sumter school board seats will be July 15 through Aug. 15, according to the Sumter County Voter Registration and Elections office. Filing opens at noon on July 15 and closes at noon on Aug. 15.

The county delegation is represented by seven legislators, five representatives and two senators.