The Senate Administrative Services/Elections Committee has recently been assigned SB235, which would create an 11 member commission to conduct the House and Senate redistricting every 10 years following the census. The synopsis reads:
This bill will create a process to have an eleven-member Commission appointed every ten years to redistrict the Senate and House of Representatives of the Delaware General Assembly. “The Redistricting Commission for the State of Delaware” would consist of ten voting members and one non-voting Chair. The ten voting members would be appointed by the leadership of the House and Senate majority and minority parties. The ten voting members would select the non-voting Chair. The Bill requires the Commission to “conduct an open and transparent redistricting process enabling full public consideration of and comment on the drawing of district lines….” No member of the Commission could be the holder of an elective office, a registered lobbyist within a year prior to appointment or selection, or an elected state official within two years of appointment or selection.This strikes me as a vast improvement over the current process, conducted behind closed doors, before a bill is introduced and weaves through the standard, fairly obtuse, process of becoming enacted into law. The problem is that the people choosing these commissioners are the same people taking the lead on writing the redistricting rules already. Section 1 of the bill adds a new subsection to §805 of Title 29:
The bill contains a timetable for completing the redistricting process. The process would culminate in the submission of a Commission-approved Final Redistricting Plan to the General Assembly for enactment into law. The bill allows for the further submission of a modified plan, if the General Assembly fails to approve the Final Plan by a majority vote of both Houses. If the General Assembly and the Governor fail to enact redistricting legislation by September 30 of the year preceding the next election year, the bill calls for the creation of a two-person judicial panel consisting of the Chancellor of the State of Delaware and a Superior Court Judge appointed by the President Judge of the Superior Court. The judicial panel would be charged with issuing a final and binding redistricting plan for the Senate and the House of Representatives. The Chancellor and the Superior Court Judge assigned to the panel would have to be from separate political parties.
Among other things, the Commission is required to: 1. Create a website for review by the public which would contain comprehensive information about the work of the Commission, including the names of the Commissioners, the rules of the Commission, notice of public meetings, district maps for existing districts, any plan approved by the Commission, Census data, and demographic data; 2. Hold four public meetings, one in each county and one in the City of Wilmington; 3. Prepare rules to govern the Commission’s proceedings; 4. Abide by the State Freedom of Information Act; 5. Approve and issue for public consideration and comment a Preliminary Redistricting Plan and Report, 6. Approve and submit to the General Assembly a Final Redistricting Plan and Report; and 7. Before concluding its business, prepare and submit a written report to the General Assembly with recommendations for improvements to the redistricting process. After the Commission’s work is completed, its records are to be maintained by the State Commissioner of Elections for a period of at least twenty years.
(c) The Commission shall be composed of eleven members, ten of whom shall be appointed. The Commission shall include at least one resident from each county and the City of Wilmington. By the third Tuesday of January of each year ending in one, the Speaker of the House, the House Majority Leader, the House Majority Whip, the House Minority Leader, the House Minority Whip, the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, the Senate Majority Leader, the Senate Majority Whip, the Senate Minority Leader, and the Senate Minority Whip shall each appoint one member of the Commission. By February 10th of each year ending in one, the eleventh member of the Commission shall be chosen by a vote of the ten appointed members and shall serve as the non-voting Chair of the Commission.Party registration totals from the Commissioner of Elections as of May 31st (posted by Ballot Access Delaware) indicate that approximately 24% of Delaware's registered voters are neither Democrats or Republicans, but you can know from the composition described above that all of the commissioners appointed to conduct the redistricting are likely to be a member of one of those two parties. Republicans aren't even 29% of Delaware's registered voters anymore, yet they are set up under this arrangement to hold 40% of the seats, with Democrats holding 60%. The non-voting chair will probably be a Democrat too, but that would have complicated the math. Democrats comprise less than 48% of Delaware's registered voters.
Democrats and Republicans are still being put in a position to gerrymander their legislative districts in such a way as to "crack and stack" independents and keep them from effectively securing their own, truly independent, representation in the General Assembly and certainly on this redistricting commission. SB235 is a good start, but it doesn't go far enough. Just as with the county level redistricting commissions, the state redistricting commission needs to include independents.