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Want a louder voice? Data shows northern York, Lancaster county area will get one

Population totals are used to determine everything from federal road and infrastructure funding to money for public services and education. As the Tri-county area continues to grow, it can also mean more representation for northern York and Lancaster counties in the S.C. Legislature.
Population totals are used to determine everything from federal road and infrastructure funding to money for public services and education. As the Tri-county area continues to grow, it can also mean more representation for northern York and Lancaster counties in the S.C. Legislature.

If the estimates are any good, and if the trend continues, York County's political voice is about to get a good deal louder.

The same goes for Indian Land in Lancaster County, while a transformative area in Chester County may still be a decade away from moving lines. It all depends on how many people are here for the counting.

"That census number, a lot depends on it," said Steve Willis, Lancaster County manager.

The U.S. Census Bureau released population estimates for counties and municipalities in May. An official count comes in 2020, as it does every decade on the decade. Population totals are used to determine everything from federal road and infrastructure funding to money for public services and education.

Major population centers How York, Lancaster and Chester counties compare to their state and their biggest neighbor to the north
Municipality 2017 2016 2010 Annual increase Increase since 2010
Lancaster County 92,550 89,855 76,652 3% 21%
York County 266,439 257,998 226,073 3% 18%
Charlotte 859,035 843,484 731,424 2% 17%
South Carolina 5,024,369 4,959,822 4,625,364 1% 9%
Chester County 32,301 32,280 33,140 0% -3%
SOURCE: U.S. Census Bureau

The Census Bureau estimates population figures help determine $675 billion per year in federal and state funding. Which is why the bureau wants to get the count right.

"The goal of the census is to count every person living in the United States once, only once and in the right place," Census Bureau Director Ron Jarmin said upon releasing the planned 2020 questions in March.

Population also goes a long way in figuring out who gets to vote for what offices. Which is why Fort Mill, Indian Land, Tega Cay and Lake Wylie residents could be gaining power at the polls. Assuming they'll take the 10 minutes to fill out a census questionnaire.

"If they don't get counted," Willis said, "when we're doing the new district lines, they don't exist."

Municipal populations *Unincorporated Indian Land and Lake Wylie didn't have 2017 data released, so their 2016 estimate is used. Indian Land isn't designated as its own place by the U.S. Census Bureau, so data reflects the 29707 zip code only.
Municipality 2017 2016 2010 Annual increase Increase since 2010
Fort Mill 17,557 15,154 10,811 16% 62%
Tega Cay 10,339 9,904 7,620 4% 36%
*Indian Land N/A 24,200 17,742 N/A 36%
*Lake Wylie N/A 11,472 8,841 N/A 30%
McConnells 303 292 255 4% 19%
Heath Springs 965 933 790 3% 22%
Kershaw 2,193 2,124 1,803 3% 22%
Sharon 598 574 494 3% 19%
Hickory Grove 518 504 440 3% 18%
Clover 6,085 5,939 5,094 2% 19%
Smyrna 53 52 45 2% 18%
York 8,147 7,997 7,736 2% 5%
Rock Hill 73,068 72,108 66,154 1% 10%
Fort Lawn 880 879 895 0% -2%
Lowrys 194 194 200 0% -3%
Chester 5,420 5,426 5,607 0% -3%
Great Falls 1,899 1,902 1,979 0% -4%
Richburg 263 263 275 0% -4%
Lancaster 8,976 9,020 8,526 0% -5%
SOURCE: U.S. Census Bureau

York County

Rick Lee spent eight years of his life serving a district that doesn't exist anymore, at least as he knew it.

In his time on York County Council, from 2000 to 2008, Dist. 7 was a Rock Hill district. Then came the census almost a decade ago.

"It physically changed," Lee said. "It went all the way up into Baxter and into Fort Mill. Who knows? The seventh district may move entirely out of Rock Hill."

State law makes counties redraw district lines "within a reasonable time" between a federal census and the next general election. The difference between the populations within those districts can't exceed 10 percent.

York County has seven districts. As of June 17, the largest is Dist. 1 — part of Fort Mill, northern unincorporated Fort Mill, Tega Cay — at 32,230 registered voters. Dist. 2, covering Lake Wylie and Clover, is next at 26,560 registered voters. Both dwarf Dist. 7 at 18,829 registered voters.

There are 96 voting precincts in York County. Of the largest 22, half are in the Fort Mill/Tega Cay area. Lake Wylie has another.

"One would expect when they redraw the lines, one district might shift toward Fort Mill, or one might shift toward Lake Wylie," Lee said.

In his turn at redistricting back in 2001, Lee recalls a fairly smooth process.

"It's quite involved," he said. "A lot of statistics involved in it, and careful mapping of where all the movements have taken place."

Partisanship, he said, wasn't too big an issue.

"I don't recall any politics, any Democrat versus Republican kind of politics," Lee said. "But some representatives have some stronger support in some neighborhoods than others. Of course you'd want to keep that if you could."

Yet the rate at which the county is growing now, and how it's centralized east of the Catawba River, could make this redraw different.

"I think there may be pretty dramatic changes this time, and it could get contentious," Lee said.

Districts in Fort Mill, Tega Cay and Lake Wylie "will get geographically smaller," he said, while western county districts will increase in land area.

"The higher the density," Lee said, "the smaller the district."

There could be scenarios where growth is so dense in certain areas this time compared to a decade ago, that redrawing lines could put sitting council members living outside their own district lines. Lee expects the county would try to prevent it given the legal issues and special election it would entail, and election law states "reasonable efforts" should be made to prevent it.

"It's not unheard of," Lee said.

Lancaster County

Change in Lancaster County wouldn't be unprecedented. It happened after the 2010 census when a Lancaster County Council district swapped from the Kershaw to the Indian Land panhandle. The move was based on Indian Land population increases then.

Mary Ann Hudson, director of the voter registration and elections office in Lancaster County, said it isn't up to her group to draw voting districts. It is up to her group to respond.

"Once they draw the lines, we just get the people coded to get people into the right district," she said.

In drawing district lines there is effort put into having about the same number of voters in each. If Indian Land grows at a higher rate than other parts of the county, more districts could be needed to cover it.

"That can shift lines," Hudson said.

Which is exactly what Willis, the county manager, expects.

"I would be willing to bet that when 2022 rolls around, there will be two council districts that will be totally in the panhandle and a good part of a third district that will be in the panhandle," Willis said.

Willis is quick to point out the recent census estimates don't have "any impact" on council district lines. The hard data comes with the 2020 census, with any potential changes following in 2021.

"At that point we have to redraw lines," Willis said. "It'll take effect on the 2022 election. Until you get the hard census numbers, it's always just a guess."

Still, it's an educated guess. About 90 percent of building permits in Lancaster County come from north of S.C. 5. Census estimates show York and Lancaster County are growing at rates few comparable communities nationwide can match, yet the municipalities in Lancaster County grew by only 57 total residents from 2016 to 2017.

Council couldn't add more seats. That move would require a referendum. So the population will be sorted into the seven districts. In 2011 the county struggled with its minority Dist. 2, only able to get a minority population there up to 62 rather than the goal of 65 percent. Similar issues will face the 2021 redistricting. Willis isn't sure which district is "going to go north," but expects one will.

"One of those districts is going away (in favor of an Indian Land district)," he said. "But that's a county council call on how those lines shake out."

Typically, the Lancaster County School Board adopts the same district lines as county council, though schools "could draw their own lines if they wanted to," Willis said. The county topping 100,000 residents "may well" mean a third resident state house member, though Willis doesn't foresee two state senators yet.

He said it's "a fairly safe guess" Lancaster County will surpass that number by 2020. With a voting machine required for every 250 voters, more people could mean more money needed for elections. Earlier this year, York County leaders said their registration and elections department would need $2.35 million for technology upgrades, which could be paid by the state, in the coming decade.

"As we get those additional people that are mostly in that Indian Land area," Hudson said, "there becomes a need for more polling locations and new voting machines."

Chester County

Chester County hasn't seen anywhere near the growth York and Lancaster counties have since the 2010 census. Still, with a much smaller overall population, it wouldn't take a severe swing in new residents to make an impact.

And residents are coming.

"It was quite a while in the making, but it's here now," Karlisa Parker Dean, director with Chester County Economic Development, said of the 11,000-acre Gateway District. "Right now that's probably where you'll see residential development start to come."

The Gateway District is roughly between exits 62 and 65 on I-77. Work began in 2016. The county adopted a master plan in 2017. Already projects are coming in one after the other. In March, Chester County Council voted against a rezoning that would have allowed more than 800 homes. Council has voted in favor of or against smaller proposals, too.

"I think what you're going to find is that will be the area where there will be new residential growth, and continued growth for commercial and industrial development," Dean said.

County leaders see the potential to transform Chester County on the table before them. That 840-home project is a prime example.

If 840 homes averaged three residents each, that project alone could increase the county's population by almost 8 percent.

The county is working through access to utilities, public safety and related concerns. Leaders bring up areas like Fort Mill, where growth is a good many years ahead of what Chester County faces. Leaders say they want to make the right choices for Chester County on the front end of a population boom.

"This council is very aware of the communities around us that have done many things wonderfully and brilliantly," Dean said. "We also want to be aware of challenges. I think the council has been very wise in this."

Even if a massive projects, or three, were approved now it would be unlikely anything could be permitted, built, marketed and sold in time to see a population swell by 2020. It may be the 2030 census when Chester County sees what neighboring counties are facing now — a growing community in ways unrecognizable from a decade prior.

"What we are very hopeful of is whatever happens here, it benefits all," Dean said.

South Carolina

Late last year, a bill in the South Carolina legislature arrived that would create an independent commission to draw district lines. There have been federal voting line challenges that could trickle down to South Carolina. For now, though, redistricting after the 2020 census would look much like previous versions.

"After the census, then the general assembly, they're responsible for doing the House and Senate redistricting," said Chris Whitmire, public information director for the South Carolina Election Commission. "They basically try to even out the districts again."

The state House of Representatives has 124 seats. The Senate has 46.

Now, Senate Dist. 16 covers Lancaster and the residential growth hotbeds Indian Land and Fort Mill, along with much of Tega Cay. Dist. 15 covers half of Lake Wylie and parts of Fort Mill and Tega Cay, but also stretches through most of Rock Hill. The northern and western parts of Lake Wylie fall in Dist. 14, which goes west all the way into Spartanburg County and as far south as downtown Union.

Districts covering most any part of Indian Land, Fort Mill, Tega Cay or Lake Wylie are likely to tighten some, if not tighten dramatically.

The same is true for state House seats, where all or part of nine districts cover York County. Districts where population ballooned the most in the last decade include Dist. 45 (all of Indian Land, from Lancaster up into Fort Mill), Dist. 26 (much of Fort Mill and some of Tega Cay), Dist. 48 (much of Tega Cay and southern Lake Wylie) and Dist. 47 (north and western Lake Wylie, past Clover).

Law states "efforts should be made" to keep the populations in state districts within 5 percent of each other. Because redistricting from a decade ago had those same guidelines, it figures districts started on the same footing and areas with the most growth since will show it after 2020.

"Basically the lines change," Whitmire said. "Over the course of 10 years a lot can change, and by the end of 10 years you could get one that's twice as big as another district."

United States

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, South Carolina had about 14,000 fewer people in 1800 than York and Lancaster counties, combined, have today. South Carolina had eight U.S. House representatives after the 1800 census. South Carolina has seven today.

While every state gets two U.S. Senate members regardless of population, House seats vary. A 1929 law sets the number at 435 seats. States get their number of seats based on their percentage of the national population.

South Carolina had a low of four representatives following the 1860 census, and a high of nine from the 1810 to 1830 counts. South Carolina had seven members after the 1840 census, then after the 1880-1920 versions. From the 1930 census until a seventh seat was restored after the 2010 count, South Carolina had six seats.

A spokesperson for the census bureau said that group can't comment on whether South Carolina is likely to get a new House seat in 2020, since it's speculation now. She did provide a comment from the bureau on what happens once the number is set.

"Once a state receives its official assignment of number of seats, then that number of seats is used to divide the state's total population giving what is termed the 'ideal population' for each district," it reads.

States will receive redistricting data in early 2021 and are then responsible for how to draw lines and how long it will take.

"The deadline for completing that work is up to each state's statutory requirements," reads the census bureau statement.

Kimball Brace is president of Election Data Services. His group will forecast states likely to gain or lose a seat.

"It's the local districts that would likely change, but it's not right now effecting the U.S. Congressional districts," Brace said of South Carolina population change. "We don't see a change in that right now."

South Carolina is "still far away" from gaining a seat, needing another 500,000 or so people in the next 18 months to move the number. In contrast, a loss of about 169,000 people could have South Carolina dropping a seat.

"You're actually closer to losing a seat than you are to gaining a seat," Brace said.

What could change is how large an area the current seat, U.S. House Dist. 5, serves. The 11 counties fully or partially within Dist. 5 make up 20.56 percent of the state's population. If South Carolina had seven somewhat equal districts, each would have a little more than 14 percent of the state population.

York, Lancaster and Chester counties alone make up 7.78 percent of the state population, more than half of what an equally dispersed congressional district would have.

This close to an official census, state population isn't likely to change to the point of impacting the number of federal seats. But it can happen. Brace points to June of 2005, when projections showed Louisiana on pace to gain a seat. A month and Hurricane Katrina later, the state was preparing to lose a seat.

With two sons living in the Palmetto State, Brace doesn't want to see anything drastic befall South Carolina.

"You guys are down on the coast with hurricane season, so you never know what's going to happen," he said.

John Marks: jmarks@fortmilltimes.com; @JohnFMTimes
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