The Delaware General Assembly will hold an unusual fall session to deal with redistricting because federal census numbers are not available now, House and Senate leadership announced Thursday morning.
House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach, and Senate President Pro Tempore David Sokola, D-Newark, said in a press release that the legislature will hold a series of special session days over a few weeks to redraw legislative districts.
The news about a special session came as a huge surprise to Republicans, who were not notified about that change before the press release was issued. Many were scrambling Thursday for a copy of the press release.
“While it is out of our control as to when we receive the Census data from the federal government, we should be fully prepared to move forward on the redistricting process as soon as we get it,” said House Republican Caucus Leader Danny Short, R-Seaford, Thursday evening. “Because state law requires House and Senate candidates to live in the districts in which they are running one year prior to the election, we should be making every effort to finalize the new maps prior to Halloween.
“I also think this process needs to be carried out in a transparent, fair and objective manner that will minimize the possibility these maps get bogged down in court challenges, as has historically happened in so many other states.”
Every 10 years after the federal census is conducted, the legislature is required to redraw voting districts to reflect population changes. Many expect several districts in the northern part of the state to move south as population grows in other areas.
Traditionally, Democrats and Republicans in each chamber draw their own sets of maps based on the new population data, and are required to follow state and federal laws designed to prevent the disenfranchisement of groups of voters, such as minorities.
However, the dominant party rules the roost when it comes to redrawing districts. The maps that ultimately get adopted this fall are expected to closely resemble the initial maps crafted by Democrats, which have large majorities in both legislative chambers and hold the governor’s office.
The redistricting usually occurs early in the year, during a normal session. This year, the press release said, Delaware might not receive its 2020 U.S. Census data until late summer, after the House and Senate have recessed.
That’s partly because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which restricted the way in which census takers could get information.
If the data doesn’t come until summer, it would be the latest Delaware has received it, and states are being warned that some of that data still might be incomplete, the press release said.
The specific dates and details of the special session are still being finalized, and will depend on when data is released. The press release said the special session would ideally take place in the fall over the course of a few weeks.
The change could complicate the 2022 elections, said House Communications Officer Joe Fulgham.
Under state law, candidates competing for House and Senate seats must live in the districts for which they are running for at least a year before the election, he said. If the new maps are not enacted prior to the first week in November, many potential candidates in the redrawn districts might not meet this requirement.
“Redistricting is an extremely complex process, but we have always met our obligation,” Schwartzkopf said in the press release. “However, our redistricting schedule – which would have started this spring – has been thrown off because of problems due to the previous presidential administration and the ongoing pandemic. Rather than leave things in doubt, we feel it is best to be upfront and announce this fall session now so everyone can plan accordingly.”
The legislative session typically begins in January of each year and ends at midnight on June 30. However, the House and Senate can enter a special session immediately after midnight, passing resolutions that allow the chambers to call themselves back into session at any time.
“On the bright side,” Sokola said in the press release, “… these extra session days will allow our members to focus all of their attention on this important process and provide greater opportunity for public input than ever before.”