Democratic leaders in the Delaware House of Representatives have published their final proposed House district maps in advance of a Nov. 1 special session to consider a redistricting bill.
The special session comes just six days before the deadline for both parties to agree on redrawn districts, given that candidates must live in their districts for at least one year prior to the Nov. 8, 2022 general election.
The final maps include several changes from the initial drafts published on Oct. 11. Democratic leaders said the changes were reflective of suggestions made by Delawareans during public comment periods.
Protecting edge incumbents?
Notably, Representative District 21 was adjusted to ensure that Republican Rep. Mike Ramone will remain within its boundaries.
According to sources familiar with the redistricting process, Ramone is an “edge incumbent,” meaning his residence sits near the boundary line of his current district. When Democrats introduced their proposed maps, his residence fell in Representative District 23, held by Democratic Rep. Paul Baumbach.
That would have meant that if both incumbents opted to run again, Ramone and Baumbach would have likely had to oppose each other in the 2022 general election. Either way, one of the two incumbents would be ousted from the legislature.
During a hearing, House Republican leader Danny Short of Seaford argued that drawing Ramone out of his district would unnecessarily pair incumbents in the same district and “override the choices of the electorate.”
Short said instead, Democratic leadership could consider the GOP’s proposed maps, noting that in their proposal both Baumbach and Ramone would remain in their current districts while still meeting all other requirements.
That’s in accordance with guidance that Senate President Pro Tempore Dave Sokola, D-Newark, offered during a Sept. 28 hearing at the beginning of the process.
Sokola said during the hearing that one priority in redistricting was ensuring “continuity of representation.”
He emphasized the need to avoid “the unnecessary pairing of incumbents in the same district because the redistricting process should not override the choices of the electorate unless population has shifted so dramatically that it becomes necessary.”
Short indicated that Republicans were in general agreement with the proposal, and adjusting the maps to keep Ramone in his current district would effectively seal the deal.
One of Ramone’s constituents, Cheryl McDonough, agreed with Short, saying the “18,000 people who live in the 21st District are totally having our choice of representation taken away from us.”
She said she believed Democrats were trying to map Ramone out of his current district because they can’t beat him at the ballot box.
“You can’t beat somebody in an election so you just go ahead and take the seat away from them,” McDonough said. “That’s not fair to us. Let the elections decide who represents us — not the General Assembly.”
But Claire Snyder-Hall, director of open-government group Common Cause of Delaware, believes protecting edge incumbents violates the Delaware Constitution by unduly favoring an individual.
“We believe that districts ought to be drawn around communities, not incumbents, and the Constitution clearly states that legislators are prohibited from drawing lines to unduly favor any party or person,” Snyder-Hall said. “It seems, in this case, that the lines were changed in order to favor Mike Ramone.”
She said she was surprised to hear Sokola argue that lines should be drawn to protect incumbents.
“I think that the important thing is empowering communities to elect a person in their district to represent them — not making sure that incumbents have continual elections.”
Joe Fulgham, communications officer for the House Republican Caucus, said “we’re very gratified to see that the final version of the map keeps Ramone in the 21st district where he has a long history of serving that community.”
With that issue resolved, Fulgham noted that he’s not anticipating any problems getting the redistricting bill passed in the House on Monday.
“I think it will be a smooth process,” he said.
Snyder-Hall said while it might be a smooth process for legislators on Monday, it has been anything but for members of the public.
“I don’t think it’s been smooth sailing for the public because, first of all, the timeline was so short that I don’t think most people were able to view and digest the maps in a way that would allow them to respond,” she said. “I think that people are just starting to understand that the process is going on and so all over the state there are probably people that are now looking at their maps and thinking ‘oh wait,’ but the process is almost over.”
Fulgham said the new maps don’t protect incumbents — they protect the communities the incumbents serve.
“Ms. Snyder-Hall may be looking at this as the maps are just trying to protect incumbents,” he said. “Well no — what the maps are actually doing is that the communities that are being served by these representatives value the service that they have had and the relationships they have formed with these legislators over a period of many years. Those communities are the ones that want that relationship preserved.”
Beyond the 21st District
Other changes to the final proposal include:
- Including all of the Collins Park Community of Interest near New Castle in the 16th District.
- Keeping the Dove Knoll Community of Interest near Rehoboth in the 14th District.
- Moving the Peninsula on Indian River Bay Community of Interest near Long Neck into the newly constituted 4th District.
- Keeping the Community of Interest between Frederica and Milford together in the 33rd District.
Click here to see the final House District map proposal.
Click here to see the preliminary House District map proposal.
Click here to see the current House District maps.
The special session
The redistricting special session will occur Monday. The Senate will convene at noon and the House will convene at 2 p.m.
Both sessions will be live-streamed on the Delaware LIVE News Facebook page.
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