Delaware General Assembly passes redistricting maps

By Leann Schenke
Posted 11/1/21

DOVER — Following a slower turnaround time due to pandemic-delayed U.S. census numbers, the General Assembly approved redistricting maps in a special session Monday.

In the Senate, the bill …

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Delaware General Assembly passes redistricting maps

Posted

DOVER — Following a slower turnaround time due to pandemic-delayed U.S. census numbers, the General Assembly approved redistricting maps in a special session Monday.

In the Senate, the bill drawing new boundaries of the state’s legislative districts was approved in a 14-7 vote along party lines.

In the House of Representatives, the bill was approved 40-1 with Rep. Mike Smith, R-Pike Creek, the only one to cast a dissenting vote.

The House voted without any discussion.

Senate Bill 199 now goes to Gov. John Carney for his signature.

The Republican senators who cast votes against the bill cited reasons like underrepresentation and a low U.S. census count in Sussex County. On the other side of the aisle, Senate President Pro Tempore David Sokola, D-Newark, said the district maps represent a “good-faith” effort.

The final maps are available by visiting the General Assembly’s website and clicking the “Redistricting Information” link.

The remapping process — required every 10 years following the release of U.S. Census Bureau data — was delayed in 2021 because census numbers arrived five months later than during previous redistricting years.

Sen. Sokola said the census data reflects that, between 2010 and 2020, the population of the First State increased by 92,014 people or 10.25%. Sussex County saw the biggest leap in population, with an increase of about 40,000 residents.

Broken down by county, he said the new data shows that New Castle County’s population necessitates 12 senators, Kent County’s necessitates 3.86 and Sussex County’s, 5.04. He added that the new maps show 12 senators living in New Castle County, four living in Kent County and five in Sussex County.

He said the new maps retain the core of all 21 current Senate districts, and that they also retain five majority-minority districts and one majority-Black district.

In addition, for the first time in Delaware, incarcerated people are now being counted by their last known address rather than by the address of the correctional facility where they are housed.

Sen. Gerald Hocker, R-Ocean View, the Senate minority leader, was against the legislation as written. Citing building permits he obtained from Sussex County Administrator Todd Lawson, the senator said the county is in the midst of a growth spurt.

“It’s not fair to the senators in those (growing) districts, and it’s not fair to what staffing we have to represent those districts,” Sen. Hocker said prior to Monday’s votes. “I’ll be encouraging our caucus to vote no on this legislation based on the actual numbers as of today.”

Sen. Sokola said he is aware of the census undercounting the lower portion of the state, particularly in low-income communities. He attributed it to policies of the Trump administration.

“They fought (against) having to count people that were constitutionally required to be counted,” he said.

Per the U.S. Constitution, Sen. Sokola said redistricting must be completed based on the most recent federal U.S. census data. The subsequent maps, therefore, represent a “good-faith effort,” he said, based on the data given from the census count.

Outlining his concerns, Sen. Brian Pettyjohn, R-Georgetown, said he understands that the districts must be based on census information; however, he is worried about deviation from the ideal Senate district population.

Generally, House or Senate district numbers are not permitted to deviate from the standard population number by positive or negative 5%. A 10% deviation, for example, would amount to 4,478 people in a Senate district.

Sen. Pettyjohn said Sussex County, which has the state’s fastest-growing population, has a positive 3.7% deviation from the ideal. That’s compared to New Castle’s negative 2.38% and Kent County’s positive 2.4%.

Sen. Bryant Richardson, R-Seaford, said his district has the highest percentage of growth and the second-highest number of constituents served. Given that data, he said there is inequality present in the new maps because the Democratic Party has 24 staff members to the Republican Party’s nine.

However, Sen. Sokola noted that the Democratic caucus aimed to address public concern where possible.

“I have to raise my hands and wonder what more we could have done under the circumstances,” he said. “We would have welcomed early maps from your side of the aisle.”

Prior to Monday’s special session, the House held two public hearings and solicited feedback via an online submission form on the proposed maps and the redistricting process, receiving approximately 100 comments. The League of Women Voters of Delaware also submitted more than 30 draft maps.

The Senate held three public hearings, receiving 99 public comments.

Closing out the Senate’s special session Monday, Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall-Long praised staff for their work in creating the maps, noting that the data counts came in really late and that there was “a lot of crunching at a very quick speed.”

The new districts will take effect for the 2022 general election.

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