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Proposed redistricting change fails to advance in Delaware House Committee

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Delaware Public Media
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A proposal to rework Delaware’s redistricting process failed in the House Administration Committee on Tuesday morning.

State Rep. Michael Smith (R-Pike Creek) and fellow Republican lawmakers argue Delaware’s current redistricting process is effectively controlled by the majority caucus in both chambers — in Delaware's case, Democratic lawmakers. Smith contends the process is inherently political, and placing both caucuses on equal footing while redrawing districts would provide a fairer outcome.

“Fundamentally speaking, politics is always part of what we do as elected officials," he said. "I don’t think we take it out when we do it the way you do it, and I don’t think we’d take it out if we did it with an independent commission. I decided to try a novel solution by essentially saying and admitting that we’re never going to take the politics out of it.”

Smith proposed allowing the majority caucus – Democrats, for now – to draw an initial map. The minority caucus would then get to “freeze” the boundaries of two districts, redraw the remaining boundaries, and pass it back to the majority caucus to do the same. The process would repeat until all district boundaries are set.

House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf (D-Rehoboth), who led the most recent redistricting process, countered that the process would not only be too long, but freezing the boundaries of some districts early in the process would have cascading effects for surrounding districts as lawmakers try to comply with other rules, including keeping district populations roughly equal and keeping majority-minority districts in New Castle County intact.

“There are a lot of things that go into play here, but the hardest things to manage are the majority-minority districts," he said. "We have three or four. You can’t touch those lines. If you have a majority-minority district that’s 52 percent minority and you take it down to 50 percent minority, I’ll be in federal district court.”

House Minority Leader Mike Ramone (R-Pike Creek South) also argued Republican districts in Sussex County tend to have more residents than districts in New Castle County; Democrats counter that while districts in Sussex are slightly larger, they aren’t large enough to add an entirely new district to the county. The last redistricting process moved one Wilmington-area seat to Sussex County.

Smith’s bill didn’t advance out of committee, marking the second time his proposal has failed in as many years.

Paul Kiefer comes to Delaware from Seattle, where he covered policing, prisons and public safety for the local news site PubliCola.