Open government group applauds Delaware redistricting hearings

Delaware Legislative Hall state seal (Wikimedia / Adavyd)

Delaware Legislative Hall state seal (Wikimedia / Adavyd)

The COVID-19 pandemic is creating a time crunch for legislatures all over the country to redraw district lines. In Delaware, the deadline to get Senate and House district lines changed is November 7. That’s one year before the 2022 election, when all 62 seats in the General Assembly will be up for grabs.

With less than two months to go, that doesn’t leave much time for this complicated, and often contentious, process to get done.

In August, open government advocates — including Common Cause of Delaware, the League of Women Voters of Delaware and the ACLU-Delaware — wrote to legislative leaders, urging them to get started on the process and include the public in that effort.

“It’s concerning that state leaders refuse to communicate about how they plan to hold a process that is transparent and accountable to the people,” said Common Cause director Claire Snyder-Hall last month. “Redistricting will determine the people of Delaware’s voting power for the next 10 years and we deserve to know how state legislators plan to draw new maps. It’s time state legislators start communicating with the public about this year’s redistricting cycle.”

Now, State House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf and Senate President Pro Tempore David Sokola, both Democrats, have officially outlined procedures for redistricting, including an online public hearing planned for Sept. 28.

“Our primary goal is to make the redistricting process as open and transparent as we can,” Sokola said. “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.”

In a typical redistricting year, state lawmakers would get census data to help redraw lines in April. This year, because of delays related to COVID-19, release of the raw data was delayed until mid-August, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. There’s even a longer delay for the data in more user-friendly tables, which won’t be available from the U.S Census Bureau until Sept. 16.

“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,” Sokola said.

The House and Senate will gather in a special session before the November deadline with each holding public hearings on the new maps. Draft maps will be posted on the state’s redistricting website at legis.delaware.gov/redistricting.

“We are glad that state leaders heeded our calls for the public to have a say in this important democratic process,” Snyder-Hall said. “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 redistricting process could have a bigger impact in southern Delaware than elsewhere in the state. Sussex County’s growing population could mean a consolidation or combination of districts in northern Delaware to add a new district in Sussex.

The final decision on those new lines will be up for a vote before the full House and Senate later this fall. Gov. John Carney must also sign off on the new maps.

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