DOVER — Some criticism about new maps proposed for the state’s 41 House of Representative districts by the majority Democratic Party arose during a virtual public hearing Monday.
Advocacy groups including the League of Women Voters of Delaware, the American Civil Liberties Union of Delaware and Common Cause Delaware voiced concern about some of the plans they saw this week as public hearings on the drafts continue.
“Our preliminary quick analysis reveals a number of problems with the proposed maps, including the unnecessary splitting of municipalities and extraordinarily large numbers of incumbents (on the edge of districts),” said Common Cause Delaware Director Claire Snyder-Hall.
Speaking in her allotted two minutes of commentary Monday, she requested that the redistricting deadline be extended beyond early November and that an independent commission be considered for future remapping processes.
She said the public’s ability to examine maps has been cut short by the General Assembly’s self-imposed deadline of Nov. 8.
“There is absolutely no reason for an early deadline,” she said.
Ms. Snyder-Hall asked that the date be extended until the end of the year, so more analysis can be conducted and “voters who will be directly impacted by this process have time to weigh in.” Additionally, more public hearings should be scheduled, she noted.
Jack Young spoke on behalf of the League of Women Voters.
“The league, as part of the Fair Maps Coalition, is submitting today, and has submitted, a nonpartisan map which scores higher and is fairer than the House-proposed map. The map that we have submitted today follows the code and other laws to give fuller force to one-person, one-vote representation,” said Mr. Young. “The league’s map improves voter representation consistent with the law.”
ACLU spokesman Dwayne Bensing said that, while state and federal law provides criteria the House should use in determining the boundaries of the representative districts, “the proposed maps demonstrate the House majority’s extraneous criteria that often undermine the spirit of the law and divides communities of interest.”
“Specifically, (in) several of the draft districts that divide communities of interest, incumbent addresses are just barely within the proposed boundaries,” he said. “Consideration of any incumbent’s address during mapmaking unduly favors that incumbent’s chances for reelection and should never be a consideration that outweighs preserving the voting strength of a community of interest.”
According to Mr. Bensing, ACLU has identified “at least 14 proposed districts with border incumbents that split at least 12 communities of interest. We encourage the House to adjust the proposed district boundaries such that communities of interest are preserved in single compact districts to the greatest extent practicable without regard to incumbent legislators’ addresses.”
The decennial remapping process, driven by U.S. census data, must comply with constitutional requirements, including the Voting Rights Act of 1965. It must meet guidelines concerning contiguity, compactness, communities of interest and observing natural or political boundaries, while also:
Based on Delaware’s 989,940 population in the 2020 census, the average population number for each of the 21 Senate districts is 47,140, and for the 41 House districts, it’s 24,145. Federal law says numbers can deviate up to plus-or-minus 5% from the targeted number.
Districts must be bounded by major roads, streams or other natural boundaries and not be created as to unduly favor any person or political party.
Rep. Danny Short of Seaford, the House Republican Caucus leader, said at the hearing that GOP members of the House “in general” are in agreement with the mapping proposed by the Democrats, but there is one major bone of contention.
That objection involves the Democrats’ proposed mapping in the Newark area, where Republican incumbent Mike Ramone of the 21st District would be drawn into the 23rd District, represented by multiterm incumbent Paul Baumbach, a Democrat.
Offering the Republican-formulated maps as a solution, Rep. Short said Republicans take issue with pairing two incumbents in the same district and asked that Rep. Schwartzkopf consider redrawing the lines, so as to not create an “unfair advantage” for one candidate/political party.
“We’ve maintained the issues that you laid out in this presentation. We’d just like to have that fairness issue,” Rep. Short said. “I know people probably hate this, but I’m going to say this anyway: I’m a Delawarean, born and raised. There is a Delaware way. And if we can work it out and work it to congenially be able to satisfy everybody, I think we’re all better for it.”
Speaker of the House Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf of Rehoboth Beach, who welcomed input from attendees at the start of the virtual meeting, agreed that placing two representatives in the same district is “not good practice.”
He said the 23rd District rests on the Delaware-Maryland line in Newark and was “most affected by the pandemic because most (University of Delaware) students left to go back home.”
“If you look at the maps that we had to deal with, the 23rd District is grossly underpopulated. We moved it north, south, and we expanded to the east. The individual you are talking about, their district, they live right on that line. By moving east, it took that district,” he said.
“With the additional information that we now have, we may be able to do something. I won’t promise you anything, other than the fact that we’ll take a look at it.”
Southeast and coastal Sussex County experienced the greatest growth in the state from 2010 to 2020, Rep. Schwartzkopf said. He said census data shows that the 38th and 37th districts both have to yield up about 6,000 people, while the 20th District is over by about 5,700 and Rep. Schwartzkopf’s 14th District has to lose approximately 3,000.
Among the handful of residents who spoke during commentary was Eul Lee of Angola, who offered a suggestion to the 5% deviation to address growth.
“Rapid growth should be drawn with minus 5%, so that in the next 10 years, the district does not grow much bigger than other slow-growth areas,” Ms. Lee said.
The state Senate held a virtual public hearing regarding its redrawn maps Wednesday and will hold an in-person event Thursday at Legislative Hall at 6 p.m.
A link for the online meeting will be available here.
The plan is to get final maps done by or before Nov. 8, as the state constitution requires that a candidate live in a district for a year prior to be eligible to run for that district.
Once approved by the House and Senate, the redistricting bill will head to Gov. John Carney for his signature.