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Delaware lawmakers approve new legislative district maps

November 1, 2021 GMT

DOVER, Del. (AP) — Delaware lawmakers voted Monday to approve new legislative district maps to reflect population changes over the past 10 years, based on U.S. Census data.

The Democrat-controlled Senate voted along party lines to approve the new maps, while Republican Rep. Michael Smith of Newark was the only House member to vote against the redistricting bill.

Smith, who has been unable to gain much support for a redistricting reform bill that he introduced last year and reintroduced this year, believes the current process has become too politicized and arbitrary.

“The process is broken,” he said after Monday’s vote. “It’s too partisan.”

Meanwhile, some GOP senators expressed concern that the allowed deviations from standard population numbers for each legislative district tend to let more people to be crammed into southern Delaware areas represented by Republicans while allowing northern areas represented by Democrats to contain far fewer residents.

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Based on a total 2020 Census population of 989,940, the standard population number for each Senate district is 47,140, while the standard population for each of House district is 24,145. Lawmakers allowed themselves to deviate from that standard by +/- 5% in redrawing boundary lines, purportedly in an effort to keep communities and neighborhoods intact. Other criteria traditionally taken into account in redistricting include compactness and contiguity of districts, preservation of “communities of interest,” and preservation of existing majority-minority districts, in which minorities account for more than half the population.

The population deviation exceeds -4.4% in five Wilmington-area Senate districts, including the state’s three northernmost districts, that are represented by Democrats. Conversely, the deviation is + 3.9% or higher for the three southernmost Delaware districts, which are represented by Republicans, including the minority leader and minority whip.

“Our constituents in Sussex County are way underrepresented when you look at these numbers,” said Senate Minority Leader Gerald Hocker of Ocean View, who described the redistricting bill as “unfair.”

Minority Whip Brian Pettyjohn of Georgetown said fast-growing areas of Sussex County already are bumping up against the 5% deviation and will soon surpass it.

“We’re already more front-loaded then some of the other districts,” he said.

Senate Majority Leader David Sokola, a Newark Democrat, said the redistricting bill, which was the subject of four public hearings and several revisions, was the product of a “good-faith effort” by map makers. He also noted that the redrawing of districts must be based on Census numbers, not projections for future growth in any particular area.

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One of the major differences between the previous maps and the new maps is the elimination of the 4th House District in New Castle County and its reconstitution in Sussex County. The district is currently represented by Democrat Gerald Brady of Wilmington.

Brady announced earlier this year that he would not seek re-election. The move came after reports that he had used racist and sexist slurs to refer to sex workers.

Residents of Brady’s former district are being parceled out to neighboring districts in order to increase their population levels. The new 4th District in coastal Sussex County incorporates fast-growing areas bordering Rehoboth Bay and Indian River Bay.

Meanwhile, Republican Rep. Mike Ramone of Newark will remain in his 21st House District after map makers backed away from an initial proposal that would have pushed Ramone’s address into the neighboring 23rd District, represented by Democrat Paul Baumbach.

The new legislative districts will take effect for the 2022 general election.