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Backlash against McGuiness removal resolutions overshadow redistricting in special session

Roman Battaglia
Delaware Public Media

State lawmakers approved new electoral district maps Monday, but failed to move forward on efforts to get clarification about their options to remove State Auditor Kathy McGuiness from office.

After substantial delays in receiving the data from the U.S. Census Bureau, lawmakers finally approved new district maps that define how communities are represented for the next ten years.

Both maps faced specific criticisms surrounding some communities, most of which were fixed in the final version, but the bill faced partisan backlash in the state Senate.

Senate Minority Leader Gerald Hocker says the maps continue to fail to address the needs of Delaware southern residents.

“Our constituents in Sussex County are way under-represented when you look at these numbers, the pluses compared to those in New Castle County when you look at minuses in their districts,” says Hocker, referencing the population variation between districts, which has to remain between +/- five percent from the average.

Senate President Pro Temp David Sokola says the data Delaware got from the Census Bureau doesn’t tell the whole story.

“We know that the census numbers undercount,” says Sokola. “And we know the predominant undercount was in poor communities. And we know that was by design because members of the Trump administration basically said it.”

Independent reports also suggest that people of color and children were also undercounted.

Sokola says while the numbers make it look like districts in New Castle County are too small, the maps take into account the amount of people that may have been undercounted.

Plus, it’s not just population that lawmakers have to factor in. Ensuring the state preserves it’s minority-majority districts is also a major priority, and most of those are in Northern Delaware.

The maps passed along party lines in the Senate, but received almost unanimous support in the House.

State lawmakers also sought clarification from the Delaware Supreme Court regarding their options to remove State Auditor Kathy McGuiness from office.

But Democrats in the two chambers failed to agree on a resolution that would achieve that, passing two different versions that leave the process on hold.

The resolutions faced harsh criticism from Republicans, who say last-minute legislating is unfair to the public.

“So we are here today much like June 30th with terms that I just wrote down after our caucus meeting: inconsistency, lack of transparency, lack of public awareness of what’s going on in this building,” said House Minority Leader Danny Short, who says his caucus was promised the special session would only be about redistricting.

House Democrats spent about an hour behind closed doors crafting their version of the resolution, which adds in the absence of an opinion from the Supreme Court, the House and Senate judiciary committees would meet to determine the next steps.

Both resolutions passed along party lines, but without confirmation from the other chamber, wait in limbo until session begins in January.

Roman Battaglia is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.

Roman Battaglia grew up in Portland, Ore, and now reports for Delaware Public Media as a Report For America corps member. He focuses on politics, elections and legislation activity at the local, county and state levels.
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