DOVER — Plans are in place for the constitutionally mandated redrawing of state legislative districts — a U.S. Census-based redistricting process that has spurred a call for openness, transparency and more accessible public participation and input.
Legislative leaders on Sept. 10 announced multiple ways for the public to view the available data and participate in the redistricting process. The first hearing will take place Sept. 28.
It came a week after Common Cause Delaware, on behalf of a coalition of 16 other diverse community organizations, urged state leaders to share information about this year’s redistricting process, a follow-up to the coalition’s early August letter to state leaders requesting that proposed maps and other relevant information be posted online and regularly updated.
As part of this process, House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf and Senate President Pro Tempore David Sokola announced the launch of a redistricting website, through which residents can learn more about redistricting, review data, find out when public hearings will be held, examine draft maps (once they are completed), and submit their own plans, suggestions, and requests in writing through an online submission form.
“We’re charged with drawing districts that are roughly equal in population, that follow natural boundaries or major roads whenever possible, that keep communities together, and that adhere to the Voting Rights Act of 1965,” said Rep.
Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach. “It’s a technical process that is not as simple as drawing 41 equally sized districts in the House and 21 districts in the Senate. We are committed to a process that involves the public and solicits their input. We welcome public input into the process, whether their comments are specific or general.”
“We are glad that state leaders heeded our calls for the public to have a say in this important democratic process,” said Claire Snyder-Hall, Common Cause Delaware director. “We hope these public hearings will provide an opportunity for the people of Delaware to participate in a meaningful way in the map-making process, so that the process of community districting will result in the drawing of fair maps that preserve communities of interest. And we look forward to the launch of the new website.”
The coalition also has asked that the public be able to provide input on any proposed maps, and be allowed to submit proposed maps for consideration.
During the Sept. 28 meeting, lawmakers will give an overview of the redistricting process and explain how districts are drawn. They also will solicit public comment from residents regarding various districts and communities.
The meeting will be held virtually via Zoom, with the registration link and information provided on the legislative redistricting website: https://legis.delaware.gov/Redistricting.
Every 10 years following the decennial Census, states must redraw legislative districts based on the most recent federal Census data.
This redistricting process requires the General Assembly to follow a specific, technical set of guidelines. There are numerous criteria each district must meet, including containing a relatively similar population size and meeting guidelines concerning contiguity, compactness, maintaining a majority-minority population and following natural boundaries.
For this year, the redistricting process was delayed by data from the U.S. Census Bureau arriving five months later than in previous redistricting years. This late release will necessitate a special legislative session later this fall to pass a bill that details the new legislative districts for the next decade.
The House and Senate will create separate plans for each chamber. Once they have drawn the draft maps, they will post the drafts on the redistricting website for the public to review. Each chamber will hold public hearings, to be announced later this month, on their respective proposals. They will take those comments and feedback and make final revisions to the district maps.
“Our primary goal is to make the redistricting process as open and transparent as we can,” said Sen. Sokola, D-Newark. “Redistricting is always a highly technical process, but further complicated this year by both the COVID-19 pandemic and the late arrival of crucial population data that is affecting states across the country. Both the Speaker and I feel very strongly that these challenges should not stand in the way of our efforts to engage the public, so we end up with district lines that serve our communities.”
Legislative leaders will introduce the final maps as legislation. There will be one bill for all 62 legislative districts, detailing the boundaries of each district. The General Assembly will convene a special session to consider the final redistricting bill. Once approved by the House and Senate, it will go to Gov. John Carney for his signature.
Joe Fulgham, director of communications and policy for the House Republican Caucus, weighed in from the GOP side.
“Public inclusion in the process has always been part of the process. That’s not really the issue. The issue is that in Delaware we have an entirely partisan process. Whoever controls the General Assembly and governor’s office controls redistricting. And right now, that’s Democrats. Democrats have a majority in the House, majority in the Senate and in the governor’s office,” said Mr. Fulgham, adding that these redrawn maps have to be run via legislation to be enacted.
“And that bill only needs to be a simple majority bill. That means we have a one-sided redistricting process that the minority and the public have no ability to impact. You can hold public hearings all you want. But there is no obligation that those maps are going to be changed one little bit as a result of the transparency and the public hearing process.”
Mr. Fulgham says temptation rests on both sides of the political aisle.
“In 2000, Republicans had control of the House and those maps were undeniably drawn with some political advantage in mind. The process should not be done in that fashion,” Mr. Fulgham said. “Regardless of who is in control and who benefits, it should be done in a fashion that is as unbiased as possible, reflecting the population shifts that have occurred in Delaware, but not done in such a fashion that you’re favoring one party over another. Regardless of whether or not it’s Democrats or Republicans drawing the lines, the temptation is always there.”
The U.S. Census Bureau is releasing population data from the 2020 Census in an easy-to-use format for Americans desiring to advocate for fair maps in this year’s redistricting cycle. The new format, which will be available at data.census.gov, includes a software tool that will make it easier to review the demographic data in a matter of minutes.
“Redistricting will determine the voting power of our neighborhoods, towns, and cities for the next 10 years,” said Ms. Snyder-Hall. “That’s why it’s so important that we the people have a say in how our maps are drawn. When the people are involved, we can be sure that maps are drawn to benefit us, not the politicians.”
New legislative districts will take effect for the 2022 General Election. Candidates in that election must reside in those new districts, and immediately following the Nov. 8, 2022 election, legislators will begin representing constituents within those new district lines.