Redistricting process Delaware

Delaware is currently in the midst of the redistricting process, which redraws the boundaries for elected officials to match changing populations. It's a regular, though infrequent, process. 

"Redistricting is a federally mandated process we have to undergo every 10 years. There's a lot of national attention paid to congressional redistricting, while state legislatures like the Delaware State General Assembly also have to redraw their districts based on the latest United States Census data," said Speaker of the House Rep. Peter Schwartzkopf. "Because the 2020 census data was severely delayed in being sent to the states, we started this process five months later than we normally would."

Despite Schwartzkopf's explanation for why officials were seeking public comment only now in October, as opposed to May, the delay still drew ire from attendees of an open public meeting who were disappointed with the amount of time they'd been granted to provide their own thoughts on the proposals. 

"We are unhappy that the public has been given only three business days to evaluate the proposed house maps, and less than a week total," said Common Cause Delaware's Claire Snyder-Hall. "I've been scrambling to get a clear understanding of the impact these maps will have on communities of interest in such a short period of time. I can only imagine how challenging it has been for everyday voters to get any sense of what the new lines mean."

Proposed maps from both majority party Democrats and minority party Republicans are hosted online for public review, but while Schwartzkopf noted there wasn't much he could do to create more time for public input as the process needs to be completed by November 8, 2021, he did make clear hearing what people thought and trying to implement proposed solutions was an important part of the process. 

Significant changes outlined by Schwartzkopf included consolidating all of Claymont into the 7th Representative District; Districts 1 and 3 needed 2,800 and 3,900 added, respectively, to meet average population requirements, while the 38th District had to lose 6,000 people for the same reasons; Schwartzkopf's own district, District 14, had to lose 3,000 people; while several districts had to move south to accommodate population shifts, including the shifting of House District 4 from New Castle County to eastern Sussex County.  House District 4 is currently represented by Rep. Gerald Brady, who has said he won't run for re-election, but refused to step down, following a racist and sexist email he sent.

Rules like preserving the integrity of Majority Minority Districts, where more than 50% of a district's population is made up of minority populations, or meeting minimum-maximum population requirements for a district--being within a 5% deviation from the average population numbers--guided the process, but still resulted in some decisions with which both private and public contributors took issue. 

In particular, House Minority Leader Rep. Daniel Short said their new boundaries created at least one instance of an unfair advantage for Democrats when they placed two incumbents inside the same boundary.

"These maps that were drawn have actually drawn two incumbents together: Representative [Paul] Baumbach and Representative [Michael] Ramone," said Short. "What we have done, is we have drawn our own maps...they actually accomplished everything that you laid out with regard to the criteria that should be mandated in the maps, and in this particular case, neither Representative Baumbach nor Representative Ramone were in the same district. In fact, all 41 reps were left in their own respective districts."

It was unavoidable, Schwartzkopf said, though he promised he would review and take into consideration the modifications made by the Republican Party. 

"If you look at the maps that we had to deal with, the 23rd district was grossly underpopulated. We moved the district--which is the Newark area, which is against the Delaware line--we moved i[the boundary] north, we moved it south, and we expand it to the east," he said. "The individual you're talking about, their district, they live right on that line, just about on that line. So by moving east, it took that district. We were not in possession of certain information at the time that we drew our lines. Obviously you were, and you had different information than what we had."

Because of those aforementioned rules, Schwartzkopf detailed how they can result in odd-looking shapes within the state, where sharp corners and jutting segments are designed to place more of particular segments of the population into a given district. 

"When drawing the lines, the shape of a census block can create roadblocks in creating districts that are contiguous and equal in population, but also preserves political boundaries and communities of interest," he said. "This is why sometimes you see very odd shaped districts. It's not necessarily because we're trying to draw strange shapes. Adding one census block to add population or to keep communities of interest together can result in districts taking on very odd shapes."

Schwartzkopf's explanation, however, didn't satiate everyone. Dwayne Bensing of ACLU Delaware made comparisons to district maps like he was cloud gazing, finding images within the proposed designs. His opinion also goes in direct opposition to Short's request of maintaining incumbent seats. 

"Using incumbents addresses has also resulted in several non-compact districts, with some of the most egregious examples being: District 17, which looks like Washington Crossing the Delaware; District 2, that looks like a megaphone; District 5, that looks like a Wu Tang Clan logo," Bensing said. "We encourage the house to adjust the proposed district boundaries such that communities of interest are preserved within single compact districts to the greatest extent practicable without regard to incumbent legislators addresses."

Some even wanted greater consideration for even more change, as change in boundaries results in change in political output. Amy Solomon Gallagher was hoping for more of a shakeup. 

"I find that...wanting a competitive, compact community of interest district is directly opposed to that third priority of 'keeping everything the same,' and keeping incumbents in their same patch," she said. "I don't know if it's a mandate that we have to have from the General Assembly, but what we're doing is we're keeping race and class segregation intact, and we're not thoughtfully thinking about our communities enough."

More redistricting information is available at Legis.Delaware.gov. A greater breakdown of population data used in the redistricting process can be found on this subpage