On Aug. 12, the 2020 census numbers were released to the states, meaning it is time for community redistricting in Delaware. The way maps are drawn directly affects whether communities have their voices heard in Dover, which is why it is critical that the public provides input to make sure maps are drawn fairly.
Many Delawareans may not be aware that the process of community redistricting has already started because there has been so little publicity about it. Speaker of the House Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach, recently stated that he wants the redistricting process completed before Nov. 8, meaning leaders only have roughly two months to hold initial public hearings, draw new legislative maps, seek public input on those maps and then finalize House and Senate districts. Speaker Schwartzkopf committed to a transparent process that engages community members in the map-drawing process and that districts would be drawn to keep communities together.
The speaker’s commitment to a fair and transparent process is important, but we need to see action soon to ensure robust public participation.
The public must have a chance to provide input both before and after the maps are drawn. Before lawmakers put pen to paper, they should listen to community stakeholders about what issues are most important to them and how legislative districts are relevant to their everyday lives. For this to happen, public hearings must be widely publicized and held at a variety of times to maximize access. In addition, community advocates have worked with Fair Maps Delaware to create their own legislative maps. We hope the hearings will not only allow people to speak but that legislators will review these community-powered maps and integrate those ideas into their draft maps.
Communities are the building blocks of representation. Keeping communities together and not allowing them to be split by district lines for partisan purposes is key in ensuring that lawmakers are responsive to constituents and that elected officials are more likely to reflect the communities they represent. The Delaware Constitution already provides protections to ensure that redistricting does not favor incumbents or one political party over another, but it could be strengthened further. After the redistricting process is complete, maintaining “communities of interest” should be added as an essential parameter for future redistricting.
A transparent process is even more critical given today’s political climate. A recent survey finds that “nearly half of voters (48%) do not trust state legislators to draw new … voting districts” and that voter suspicion is shared across party lines, with 47% of Republicans and 42% of Democrats expressing distrust. Delaware legislators have long modeled a bipartisan and collegial relationship across political differences, and that spirit is needed now more than ever. The public must have confidence that redistricting decisions are made with the interests of the people first and not to further any incumbent or political party’s advantage. Engagement with the public as true partners in drafting legislative maps that reflect community values will help build trust with those who may be skeptical about redistricting and is a useful building block for future public participation on legislative issues.
Delawareans should pick their legislators when they go to the ballot box, and yet, too often, unfair political maps make elections foregone conclusions. Gerrymandering to favor one political party or incumbent circumvents the people and is inherently undemocratic, as well as unconstitutional. Elected officials can help all our communities prosper by engaging in a thorough and transparent redistricting process that values the voices of stakeholders and produces fair maps.
In a process that will impact our elections for the next decade, we deserve to have as many opportunities for robust debate and citizen participation from as many people as possible. We look forward to Speaker Schwartzkopf’s announcement of public hearings, so everyone in Delaware can participate in creating fair maps this redistricting cycle.
Claire Snyder-Hall is the director of Common Cause Delaware. Mike Brickner is the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Delaware.