The bill codifying new election district lines drawn by Democrats in the Delaware General Assembly passed the House with a party-line vote this afternoon.
The bill codifying new election district lines drawn by Democrats in the Delaware General Assembly passed the House with a party-line vote Tuesday.
House Majority Leader Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf (D-Rehoboth) said those involved in drafting the redistricting plan should be commended for engaging in a public process, which provided for a comment period and included a public hearing.
“We tried to have as much of an open process as possible,” he said.
However, Schwartzkopf also said that no substantial changes were made to the redistricting plan Democrats developed on their own.
Minority Leader Rep. Greg Lavelle (R-Sharpley) said the redistricting process was "much improved" compared to the bitter, court-arbitrated ordeal that occurred 10 years ago when Republicans were in power, but his party's input was not given due consideration.
"We just couldn't break through," he said. "We put out alternate maps, alternate suggestions, observations."
Ten of the House’s 15 Republican members voted no on the redistricting bill; the other five were recorded as not voting.
From the time the plans were released, Republicans were accusing Democrats of Gerrymandering, since the majority’s maps would pit two pairs of New Castle County GOP incumbents against each other in theoretical primary elections.
Sussex county Republican Rep. Ruth Briggs King also was dissatisfied with how her Georgetown area district was redrawn to include only the city limits and communities to the southwest of the municipality.
“I felt Georgetown was just divided too much,” she said. “Georgetown is not just the town center. Neighborhoods are not in one district.”
Schwartzkopf said he expected a strict party-line vote on the redistricting plan, but the fact that some Republicans were recorded as not voting rather than no votes indicates that they weren’t completely dissatisfied with the plan.
“It’s a political process. Am I surprised? No,” Schwartzkopf said.
The House redistricting plan preserves four Wilmington districts where minority voters outnumber whites and shifts two northern New Castle County districts to Kent and Sussex counties, where population growth was more aggressive over the last decade.
Lavelle’s 11th District, located north of Wilmington, would migrate to the fast-growing area south of Middletown and stretch south to include Hartly, Kenton and other communities in northwestern Kent County.
The Hockessin-area 20th District, occupied by Republican Nick Manolakos, would close and reemerge in eastern Sussex County, where it would encompass the towns of Milton and Lewes.
Also included in the bill are the Senate's redrawn district lines, which call for one New Castle County district to close and reemerge in eastern Sussex, forcing a Republican incumbent into a theoretical race against a Democratic candidate.
Critics of the upper chamber’s plan have said it’s blatantly designed to protect incumbents at the expense of Wilmington-area minority communities, who would see their voting influence diminished in certain districts.
The Delaware chapter of the NAACP has said it may pursue legal action to challenge the Senate’s plan based on the federal Voting Right’s Act, which contains protections for minority voting districts.
Traditionally, the House does not debate the Senate’s redistricting plan and vice-versa, but Schwartzkopf did point out that the legislation contains a severability clause that would allow the House’s district lines to stand even if the Senate lines were challenged in court.
The Senate, by law, must pass the redistricting legislation by Thursday, when this year’s General Assembly session comes to a close.