Draft maps released as public hearings on state redistricting continue

By Glenn Rolfe
Posted 10/16/21

DOVER — Proposed redistricting maps for Delaware’s General Assembly have reached the draft stage ahead of public hearings this week.

Census data-driven maps from the Democratic House …

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Draft maps released as public hearings on state redistricting continue

Posted

DOVER — Proposed redistricting maps for Delaware’s General Assembly have reached the draft stage ahead of public hearings this week.

Census data-driven maps from the Democratic House Majority and a Senate collaboration have been accessible online since Oct. 11. House Minority Republican draft maps were expected to be finalized prior to the Monday hybrid hearing, hosted by the House.

The Senate will host its virtual hearing Tuesday, followed by an in-person hearing at Legislative Hall on Thursday. All hearings will begin at 6 p.m. Registration links will be available on the legislative redistricting website: https://legis.delaware.gov/redistricting.

“We’re still open to suggestions,” said Senate President Pro Tempore David Sokola, D-Newark, 8th District. “The public has a good chance to weigh in. Some already have. We’ll hopefully have them up for a vote in the General Assembly by Nov. 1.”

With Delaware’s total population at 989,940 based on 2020 Census data, the standard population number for each of the 21 Senate districts is 47,140. The ideal population for each of the 41 House districts is 24,145.

Conducted every 10 years, the redistricting process must meet guidelines concerning contiguity, compactness, communities of interest and observing natural or political boundaries, all while maintaining majority-minority districts (a racial or language minority group that comprises a voting majority).

In effort to keep communities and neighborhoods intact, some numerical deviation is permitted. The goal is that the population of each district does not deviate from the standard population number by more than plus or minus 5%.

All states must comply with constitutional requirements related to population, including the federal voting rights act while preventing discrimination through the dilution of minority communities.

Redistricting has been under the watchful eye of Common Cause Delaware, a nonpartisan/grassroots organization dedicated to upholding the core values of American democracy. Claire Snyder-Hall, Common Cause Delaware President, levied criticism of the process at this stage.

“The General Assembly has unnecessarily rushed this process that will decide the fate of our elections for the next decade,” said Ms. Snyder-Hall Friday. “Not only were the maps released in a hard-to-read format, the public has been given less than a week to review them before the next hearing. Analyzing these maps is part of our job, and we have been working frantically to analyze the data. We can only assume that voters, with so many other demands on their plates, have experienced even greater difficulty and deserve more time to participate.”

Ms. Snyder-Hall continued, “An initial review of the maps shows these maps are being drawn to protect current elected officials from having any competition in future re-election races, rather than to protect communities of interest. We look forward to the public being invited to participate and help improve these maps in the weeks ahead.”

Geocoding of all Delawareans in prisons factored into the redistricting equation.

“That actually held the process up a little bit. When we thought we had every district within plus or minus 5% after doing the geocoding some of the estimate suggestions we had were off a little bit. There were one or two districts that needed to be further adjusted,” said Sen. Sokola. “Sometimes dominoes fall a little bit. We have the final data. We identified the last known address of incarcerated Delawareans, which is good because it prevents certain districts from being under-represented, and others from having their populations artificially inflated.”

Maps at present are just drafts and are open to adjustment and tweaking.

Drew Volturo, deputy chief of the House Democratic Caucus, said that occurred in the 2011 redistricting process.

“We had a public hearing, and some people came forward with suggestions about certain communities and made the case that maybe these two communities are very closely related and therefore should be kept in the same legislative district,” Mr. Volturo said. “People sometimes have better information at the granular level and that kind of input is extremely valuable. That is why you go through this public process … to get that kind of information and get those suggestions to make the maps and the process better.”

Collaborative Senate effort

There is just one Senate map, not separate Democratic and Republican drafts as on the House side.

“The Senate was a collaborative process. We had staff and senators from both sides of the aisle come in,” Sen. Sokola said. “We had input from all incumbent senators, including Sen. (Ernie) Lopez who had already announced that he was not going to seek re-election. It was very valuable input.

“What we had was all the data in the maps for existing districts, populations and demographics from the Census data that was received in September. All we had to do was make sure every district was within plus or minus 5% of the sweet-spot (47,140) people,” said Sen. Sokola. “The proposed maps are more geographically compact, at least the Senate ones are. We try to comply with everything that is in state or federal law. I think we made a good faith effort to do that.”

After all input is received, there will be an overlay of the House and Senate maps “so that we can see if there are some tiny segments that need to be adjusted. What that means is if a Senate district ends on my street and a House district ends on the next street over, then you’re going to have like a half of both sides of the street that are going to make up like one election district. That has staffing input, implications, and everything,” said Sen. Sokola.

He added that there is Department of Elections criteria to be considered. “They can make suggestions to us, or we can figure out the obvious ones and make some adjustments,” said Sen. Sokola. “Again, we have to keep with that plus or minus 5%. But we want to make sure we don’t unduly create a burden on another department.”

On the Senate side, two downstate districts — Republican Sens. Ernie Lopez (6th District) and Gerald Hocker (20th District) — grew much faster than the state as a whole. “They had to be cut down a little bit,” said Sen. Sokola.

The adjustment resulted in population gains for Senate Republicans Bryant Richardson (21st District) and Brian Pettyjohn (19th district), and possibly David Wilson (18th District), Sen. Sokola said.

In the House

There is some disagreement over the Democrats’ House Majority proposal.

“There are several problems we think have occurred with the plan released by House Democrats. Not the least of which is that they have drawn one of our incumbents, (21st District) Rep. Mike Ramone, into the same district of one of their incumbents, (23rd District) State Rep. Paul Baumbach,” said Joe Fulgham, communications officer for the Delaware House of Representatives/Republican Caucus. “That does two things that favor Democrats. One is it draws Rep. Ramone into a district where the significant majority of the constituents in the new district will be current constituents of Rep. Baumbach, giving him an unfair advantage in a potential election between the two. The second thing it does is it opens the 21st District; it creates an open seat in what will be a Democratic heavy district. It’s unfair. Frankly, I believe illegal.”

In response, Mr. Volturo said it’s not a problem but more of a “just a statement of what the reality of what the maps and statistics bear out.” He said part of the issue is the 23rd District is down several thousand people and needed to pull in several thousand to meet the 5% deviation threshold.”

“The 23rd District is unique in that it is bound on two sides by Pennsylvania and Maryland. There are only really two directions that you can go to bring in more population,” Mr. Volturo said.

“What we think happened is that as a result of the college kids not being in Newark because of the COVID lockdown, when the Census takers came around and knocked on dorm doors those dorms were empty,” Mr. Fulgham said. “It creates an artificially low count at the time of the Census.”

Mr. Fulgham said that while Rep. Ramone does live on the edge of his district, next to Rep. Baumbach’s district, districts to the south and southeast held by Democrats “on the maps that the Democrats drew are both like 3.5% over in their populations.”

“So, there were other places to go for population other than just the 21st,” said Mr. Fulgham. “You clearly are not supposed to be drawing maps that favor a particular candidate or particular party. And in this case, they have done both.

“Redistricting is a process that is driven by the majority party. They control all the levers in this process,” said Mr. Fulgham. “However, we are offering our own plan as a counterpoint to the ones that House Democrats have come out with.”

Redistricting deadline

The General Assembly will convene in a special session this fall to consider the final redistricting bill, hopefully in late October or very early November, Speaker of the House Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth, announced in September.

The mission is to get this done by or before Nov. 8. There is a constitutional charge requiring that a candidate live in the district for a year prior to be eligible to run for that district.

Once approved by the House and Senate, the redistricting bill goes to Gov. John Carney for his signature.