Common Cause Delaware Supports Constitutional Amendment on Redistricting

Urges amendment language that ‘does not preclude the option of future redistricting reform’

In 1964, the US Supreme Court ruled that the legislative district provisions of the Delaware Constitution violate the Equal Protection Clause of the federal Constitution, and that seats in the Delaware legislature must instead “be apportioned substantially on a population basis.”

However, the Delaware Constitution has never been amended to delete the invalidated section.

At 3pm today, the Senate Executive Committee will hold a public hearing on SB 27, a proposed constitutional amendment to repeal those provisions and replace them with the redistricting requirements established under Chapter 8 of Title 29.

Common Cause Delaware supports the constitutional amendment, but urges a slight change to the amendment language to ensure it “does not preclude the option of future redistricting reform.”

Around the country, states are creating independent redistricting commissions to ensure that district lines are drawn in ways that respect communities rather than benefit incumbent politicians or political parties.

The Delaware Legislature has repeatedly considered bills to create an independent redistricting commission — most recently in 2017, when the bill passed the state Senate but was not acted upon by the House.

Testimony of Common Cause Delaware Director Claire Snyder-Hall

For more than 50 years, Common Cause has been a nonpartisan, grassroots organization seeking to protect and strengthen our democracy at all levels. We now have more than 1.5 million members nationwide and over 6600 in Delaware.

Common Cause believes that redistricting should be fair, transparent, non-discriminatory, and politically impartial, and we want to ensure that those values are reflected in any redistricting amendment. In our democracy, voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around. That is why we strongly support an independent redistricting process. We also believe that during this tumultuous time, when everyday people have lost trust in government, it is important to have a redistricting process that reassures voters that districts are not rigged to favor incumbent politicians, but instead respect the integrity of communities and the value of every voice being heard on election day.

Common Cause Delaware supports amending the Constitution to bring Delaware redistricting criteria in line with the requirements laid out by the United State Supreme Court, which SB 27 does. However, we do have two concerns about the current language of the bill.

First, because this is a constitutional amendment, we want to ensure that the language in this amendment does not preclude the option of future redistricting reform. While the current language does not necessarily bar the General Assembly from delegating the redistricting function to an independent redistricting commission, it could be interpreted that way in years to come. We worry about the possibility that a future decision by the US Supreme Court might remove some of the authority of state legislatures to delegate or that the amendment might be exploited by opponents of independent redistricting, who read the proposed language in a way not intended by the sponsors of SB 27. Thus, we recommend revisiting this language to ensure that this constitutional amendment cannot be used to tie the hands of future legislators.

Second, it is important that the criteria be expanded to include protections to keep communities together. Communities should be the building blocks of districts and holding them together will make it more likely that voters can elect representatives who share their lived experience and values. Inclusion of this criteria will ensure that lines would not be drawn in a way that divides authentic communities, such as the college community around UD or the small town of Rehoboth, because those areas are authentic communities with shared interests and their boundaries should be respected.