South Carolina State Government - The Legislative Branch


South Carolina State House - Columbia, SC
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On March 26, 1776, South Carolina's Second Provincial Congress convened in the morning, then re-assembled in the afternoon as the First General Assembly of the State of South Carolina. The 1776 SC Constitution required the General Assembly to be elected by the general population every two years and specified when each assembly would meet. Except for when the British held Charlestown starting in May of 1780, the SC General Assembly met per Constitutional requirements.

The first two general assemblies included a House of Representatives with a Legislative Council elected by that body to serve alongside the House in steering the legislative aspects of the new state government. Upon election to the Legislative Council, those representatives were to give up their seat in the House and new elections were to be held to replace them. This proved to be ineffective very quickly and the SC government revised its Constitution in 1778 to now include a truly bicameral General Assembly - the Senate and the House of Representatives, all members being elected for a two-year term.

Election districts were established using a combination of the well-established "parish system" that was in place under British rule, and several new districts that were established during the Revolutionary War in the backcountry. As time went on and the population grew, new election districts were added to this schema, and the awkward combination of old parishes and new districts seemed perfectly normal to the South Carolina populace. This schema remained in place until the American Civil War, with adjustments made when new "districts" (counties) were created and the population shifted from the lowcountry to the backcountry.

At the conclusion of the American Civil War in 1865, the Federal Occupation force mandated that South Carolina revise its Constitution to be more in line with northern examples and South Carolina was forced to use the nomenclature of county, instead of "district" for local government and representation. Members of the Senate would be elected to four-year terms, some staggered so not all would be replaced at one time. Federal authorities mandated that South Carolina revise its Constitution once again in 1868, and this version remained as the authority until 1895.

Based on the 1865 and 1868 SC Constitutions, each county was considered an "election district" and was authorized a specific number of delegates to the House of Representatives based upon population. Each county was authorized one Senator, except for Charleston County, which was authorized two Senators. As new counties were established, they followed this general approach well into the 1960s.

In 1966, the South Carolina Senate was re-apportioned into twenty-seven (27) districts with a total of fifty (50) Senators authorized based on population, and this new scheme was put into place for the 97th General Assembly, which first met in 1967. For the 98th General Assembly, the SC Senate was again re-apportioned into twenty (20) districts, now with a total of forty-six (46) Senators authorized based on population. For the 100th General Assembly, which first met in 1972, the SC Senate was again re-apportioned into sixteen (16) districts, again with a total of forty-six (46) Senators authorized based on population. This sixteen (16) district Senate schema remained in place until 1985.

During 1972, the South Carolina General Assembly was directed by the Federal Government to re-apportion all House and Senate districts based on the results of the U.S. Census population information every ten years, and to acquire Federal approval of all election districts. The House of Representatives was re-apportioned into one hundred-twenty-four (124) new election districts, each with a single delegate to be elected by the local population - this schema was implemented in 1975 for the 101st General Assembly. The Senate continued with its existing 16-district schema as before.

It was not until 1985 and the 106th General Assembly that the new SC Senate re-apportionment schema would be approved by the Federal government and implemented in South Carolina. Now, the Senate included forty-six (46) election districts, each with a single Senator elected for four-year terms. Re-apportionment of both the House of Representatives and the Senate would be accomplished every ten years based on the results of the U.S. Census, and it would typically take the legislature two to three years to acquire Federal approval in order to implement the new re-apportionment as proposed.




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