JASPER CO., SC (WTOC) - A federal judge on Monday approved a new voting plan for the Jasper County School Board, splitting Sun City Hilton Head voters who live in Jasper into two different school board districts.
After reviewing multiple proposals, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Mark Gergel in Charleston shared a hybrid plan to redistrict the Jasper County Board of Education. The primary change is that Sun City voters in Jasper County will be split between the school board's District 6 and District 7 seats.
Gergal directed the Jasper County elections officials to determine how soon the special election can be held for all nine school board seats. That election is expected to come in August at the earliest, and possibly in September.
"This is a complicated issue because we are in the middle of a census cycle. What Judge Gergel did was create a plan that probably takes on the best elements of all the plans he had before him," Ken Childs of Childs & Halligan, the law firm representing the Jasper County Board of Education, said Tuesday.
In September 2014 Gergel found the Jasper County School Board's districts to be unconstitutional under the one person, one vote doctrine.
Over time, several of the Jasper school board districts became unbalanced – three of the nine deviate by more than 25 percent, and District 7 is larger than it should be by more than 33 percent. Part of the unbalance came from the growth of Sun City Hilton Head, which is mostly in Beaufort County but has homes in Jasper County as well.
In effect, the school election districts dilute the power of voters in larger districts.
"We ran for the School Board because we want to help the children and the schools in Jasper County," said Board Chair Berty Riley. "We are glad the redistricting question has been answered so we can move ahead with the new elections, and the sooner the better."
Still to be determined by Judge Gergel is who pays the plaintiff's legal costs, who pays for the mediator and who pays for the special election. Because the Jasper County School Board didn't have any control over the voting districts, it shouldn't have to pay any of the plaintiff's legal costs or the mediator's costs, Childs said.
Judge Gergel initially referred the redistricting issue to the South Carolina General Assembly and set a March 1 deadline. Because the Jasper County legislative delegation didn't come up with a plan to fix the district populations, the matter came back to Judge Gergel on Monday.