Delaware’s state legislative districts are drawn by the legislature. The governor can veto any maps and the legislature can override any veto with a three-fifths majority. In addition to the VRA requirements, the Delaware constitution also requires that districts are contiguous and not “unduly favor any person or political party.”22 In 2010, the state passed legislation ending prison gerrymandering.
In Delaware, advocacy organizations convened around the Fair Maps Coalition. Through extensive advocacy, the legislature accepted maps created for communities of interest for consideration. In previous years, legislators offered no opportunities for public map submissions.
Community of Interest Story
This cycle, the League of Women Voters of Delaware submitted maps to the legislature. Despite having a newfound opportunity to submit maps, advocates felt that legislators did not give those maps serious consideration. One advocate expressed that the legislature already knew what the new districts would look like ahead of time and that they had been drawn prior to any public hearing. This left the public and coalition feeling deflated and wanting to see additional reform ahead of 2031 to ensure that public input is actually considered.
During local redistricting in Wilmington, community-drawn maps were considered. The final state maps drew district boundaries around incumbents despite the constitutional requirements that district mapping cannot unduly advantage any party or person. This requirement was raised by the Fair Maps Coalition in several meetings but was dismissed by legislators who interpreted the language differently. The final district maps complied with the Voting Rights Act, so the coalition decided not to pursue litigation.
Overall State Grade: C-
“They blatantly drew the districts around incumbents when that’s against the constitution.” – Claire Snyder Hall, Common Cause Delaware
Incumbency protection: The Fair Maps coalition was not as successful as they hoped in avoiding drawing district boundaries based on incumbent addresses – by and large, the General Assembly adopted a few changes from the prior maps and protected incumbents in every remaining district. The maps were generally unchanged from prior cycles, despite more compact alternatives that would have kept more communities of interest, particularly municipalities, intact. Incumbent protection appeared to trump protecting communities of interest or consideration of public testimony.
Inadequate public hearings and commission transparency: Public hearings were limited and community members were not given sufficient time to evaluate proposed maps or have alternatives considered in public debate. As a result, there were few people, outside of the Fair Maps coalition, that participated in the process. The legislature created a website for redistricting communications, but all public hearings received minimal notification and the proposed maps were not publicized. The published draft maps were difficult to read and the coalition spent an entire weekend reviewing the various maps in order to be able to provide thoughtful testimony during the remaining public hearings. In Delaware, public comments are limited to two minutes and advocates expressed frustration that it did not feel like the legislative body was interested in any of these public comments.
Lack of strong coalition support: Delaware has a history of noncompetitive elections which has led to minimal participation in the democratic culture. It was challenging for the Fair Maps coalition to engage communities and create a narrative around why participation in the redistricting process is important. Events created by the coalition were sparsely attended and organizers felt that people were extremely fatigued by the ongoing pandemic and the political environment.
- Increased use of technology improved access: The Fair Maps coalition was successful in advocating for the creation of a public redistricting website to house draft maps and public hearing information.
- This cycle had increased opportunities for public input: The 2021 redistricting cycle offered more opportunities for the public to engage during the process. The general assembly offered three public comment hearings throughout the process. The last cycle was a completely secretive process with no public input, so this cycle was more successful in terms of transparency. However, the public hearings were pretty limited in terms of access, such as giving people advanced notice and actually listening to testimony.
- Advocacy must continue for the creation of an independent redistricting commission (IRC): During the 2017 legislative session, state Senator Bryan Townsend (D) introduced a bill to establish an IRC ahead of 2021 but the bill was killed during legislative session. The sponsor remains interested in carrying legislation in the senate and recognizes that such advocacy must continue. In addition, Kyra Hoffner, a leader in the Fair Maps Coalition, was elected to the senate in 2022 and is interested in adding momentum to this effort. Additional work is required to ensure that there is a path forward for this proposal. The coalition will remain involved in public education and advocacy for the creation of an IRC in hopes that the political will may change in time to create a functioning commission.
- Build media relationships to increase press awareness of the process: The media was not interested in covering stories about redistricting nor the public hearing process. Some national press releases received attention from local outlets, but this is an area that could use improvement ahead of 2031. Local press releases and testimony during hearings from state-based organizations did not receive attention. The coalition may need to reconsider a different communications strategy for future redistricting cycles that is more effective at meeting the average voter and builds ongoing relationships with reporters to tell a compelling story about the impact redistricting has on the state.
- Robust public education and outreach is necessary: Despite the challenge in engaging communities around redistricting, the final maps were marginally improved by public participation in 2021. The coalition has recognized that more work could have been done to engage and maintain public interest in the redistricting process. Understanding the many hurdles facing the 2021 cycle can guide outreach efforts moving forward. This includes starting earlier on public education, and for redistricting to be included in future conversations to better prepare communities for 2031.