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Sunday, March 7, 2021

Schwartzkopf: Redistricting An Arduous & Complex Process

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Town Square Delaware invited members of the Delaware House of Representatives’ Majority and Minority Caucus to comment on current efforts to redraw the legislative district maps following the 2010 Census. This is the response from the Majority Caucus, written by Majority Leader Pete Schwartzkopf (D-Rehoboth Beach). For a look at the Minority Caucus’ statement, click here.

Redistricting An Arduous And Complex Process
by House Majority Leader Pete Schwartzkopf (D-Rehoboth Beach)

Redistricting is an arduous and complex process, one that happens every 10 years. The majority party in the House at the end of each decade is charged with completing the redistricting process. We use the federal census data to redraw our legislative districts, accounting for population growth and shifts. In 2000, the Republicans were in the majority in the House of Representatives and were tasked with redrawing the representative district lines that would stand for 10 years. I filed to run for election in 2002 as a result of their redistricting plan because of perceived problems of manipulation and gerrymandering. For that reason, it is somewhat ironic that I would be directly responsible for this year’s redistricting process being done by the majority Democratic leadership.

 

The census data was provided to Delaware in March and it showed that Delaware’s population had grown to almost 898,000. With that information in hand, we set out to redraw the maps.

 

We developed a process that began with a month-long public input process where residents of Delaware could submit ideas, suggestions, warnings, maps and even their own redistricting plans. I even asked the Republican caucus for their ideas so I could possibly incorporate them into our plan. We followed Federal and State laws that established the following guidelines:

  • Each representative district must contain an average of 21,900 residents and be plus or minus 5 percent (20,805 to 22,995 people);
  • As much as possible, each district must:
    • Be formed of contiguous territory;
    • Be nearly equal in population;
    • Be bounded by major roads, streams or other natural boundaries;
    • Not be created so as to unduly favor any person or political party;
  • Where possible, attempt to retain majority-minority districts (districts where more than half the population is a minority).

We also made a determined effort to go back and put together communities and developments that were split into two districts when the Republicans did the redistricting ten years ago.

 

Let me point out that re-drawing the district lines was not something as simple as moving a line on the map. We had to use census blocks to move populations around. Census blocks could range in population from less than 10 people to more than 1,500, which is larger than the minimum or maximum deviation allowed for a district. We also tried very hard to use municipal boundaries, major roadways and natural borders – such as the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal, county lines and other bodies of water – as much as possible to form district lines.

 

Our proposal adds two new districts in Kent and Sussex counties – where population grew by 25.9 percent and 28.1 percent, respectively – by closing two districts in New Castle County – where population grew at a much slower 7.6 percent during the past decade. Most importantly, our plan preserved the existing majority-minority districts in and around the city of Wilmington and groups the growing Hispanic population in and around Georgetown together in one district, increasing its percentage of the population in that district.

 

With the population growth in the south, we knew we had to move at least one district from northern New Castle County downstate, and we tried to limit it to one district. But we ended up needing to close a second district up north and move it south. We tried multiple scenarios, and ultimately, the best districts to close were the 11th and the 20th districts.

 

Under our plan:

  • Existing districts where more than half the population is a minority would remain and would retain their majority-minority status;
  • Two northern New Castle County districts would be closed. Each is adjacent to multiple districts that fall well short of the minimum population requirement, and the closed districts’ population would be used to bring the neighboring districts into compliance with the population requirement:
    • The 11th District touched four districts that fell an average of 3,000 people short of the ideal population size, would be closed;
    • The 20th District touched four districts that were an average of 2,800 people short of the ideal population size, also would be closed;
  • Two new districts would be created below the C&D Canal, where the bulk of the population increase took place:
    • The new 11th District would encompass the southwestern quadrant of southern New Castle County south of Middletown and west of U.S. 13 and the northwestern quadrant of Kent County. It would include the municipalities of Townsend, Kenton and Hartly;
    • The new 20th District would incorporate the municipalities of Lewes and Milton, running south near SR 24 and encompassing the Harbeson area;
  • The 37th District would include all of Georgetown and see its Hispanic population increase from 17.22 percent to 19.39 percent.

 

The location of the two new districts was driven strictly by the population numbers. The population increase in southern New Castle County was too much for two districts but not enough for three districts. Simultaneously, the 29th District in Kent County had about 6,000 more than the maximum number of people allowed. Those two factors led to the location of the new 11th District, which is the only district to cross county lines. In eastern Sussex County, the 14th, 36th, 37th and 41st Districts needed to shed about 15,800 people to reach the ideal district size, prompting the creation of the new 20th District.

 

Let’s be clear: I have said from the beginning that redistricting is a political process. However, that does not mean that it has to be unfair or secretive. The plan we have released meets federal and state guidelines. We established a process that included a public comment period for citizens to offer suggestions, produce detailed maps for public view and held a public hearing on the plan to solicit more public input. We have also put PDF’s of each of the 41 proposed districts online at the state’s General Assembly website, http://legis.delaware.gov, under the “Redistricting Information” link in the middle of the main page.

 

In the end, I believe our plan is an inclusive one that incorporates the best ideas from residents and protects their right to equal representation. And, of utmost importance, I believe our plan is defensible to any court challenges.

 

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