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Politics & Government

Redistricting commission idea sees support among progressive Democrats and Republicans

Roman Battaglia
Delaware Public Media

How population shifts may affect Delawareans’ representation over the next ten years was the focus of lawmakers' latest redistricting hearing.

State senators’ Thursday public hearing was the final one before proposed district maps are finalized and voted on in early November.

Senate Republicans continue to raise concerns about population differences from county to county, noting on average, Senate Republicans represent more people than Democrats.

But Senate Majority whip Elizabeth Lockman, who oversaw the hearing, says it’s not just population numbers going into the map drawing process.

“We do have to be mindful of majority-minority districts, minority influenced districts and maintaining those as well,” Lockman says. “So I think that’s one of the complexities that lent itself to — particularly northern New Castle County needing to maintain some districts.”

Majority-minority districts are defined under federal voting laws, which say district lines cannot be drawn to improperly dilute minorities, so states often have districts that are meant to ensure the voices of minorities are heard in the state legislature.

Lockman does agree that Delaware’s population is slowly shifting south, and the state’s minority populations are both shifting and diffusing around the state, so changes could continue to come in future redistricting efforts.

State lawmakers have also attempted to change how Delaware draws its election district lines in the past, but proposals to cede power to an independent commission stalled the effort.

House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf opposes such an idea, saying lawmakers themselves are best suited to draw the lines because they know what makes their constituents happy, and how they can be best represented.

But not all Democrats share such a sentiment.

“I’m certainly familiar with the idea of an independent commission, I don’t oppose it, and ultimately it’s about what’s gonna be best for the voters and if that is where we decide we need to go, I’m really excited to have that conversation,” says Lockman.

Creating an independent redistricting commission has previously been a bipartisan endeavor in the state Senate. Senate Majority leader Bryan Townsend introduced a bill in 2017 with bipartisan support, but it died in a House committee.

Since 2012, every attempt by state lawmakers to create an alternative to the traditional redistricting process failed to get a House vote.

House Republicans say they’re open to a commission, saying it would ensure district boundaries aren’t created to favor incumbents or political parties.

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