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Gerrymandering Must be Stopped

Submitted by: Frank Sims

The reason Delaware needs an Independent Redistricting Commission to change the way new legislative districts are drawn is that all legislative bodies engage in gerrymandering. Gerrymandering is a process of manipulating political boundaries during redistricting to affect a pre-determined political outcome. Your choice of candidates is usually controlled this way.

The three types of gerrymanders are as follows:

1 - Partisan - This occurs when one political party controls the entire redistricting process. The strategy behind the partisan gerrymander is to create enough extremely safe districts in order to insure that the current majority party always elects a majority of the political body for the next decade. The controlling party must work within Supreme Court and state law guidelines, but they calculate how to distribute their voters across the safe districts and those they are willing to risk. By placing just enough in each district to either comfortably win or have a good chance to hold the seat, they can often control the outcome of an election without the public’s knowledge. Those who have mastered this process can tell exactly how the independent and third party voters will swing, so it is not necessary to have the majority of voters be of their party to succeed. Swing voters can surprise the party leaders, but this seldom occurs.

2 - Incumbent protection - The goal of this type is to secure reelection for incumbents when population shifts would logically move them into another district than the one they represent. This form of gerrymander represents a compromise between the two political parties--a situation which is possible only when one party does not have exclusive control of the redistricting process. Several members of the governing body from different parties whose districts join, are willing to make mutually beneficial trades of census tracts, but this is not just a matter of numbers. Legislators are loath to give up areas from which their best volunteers come or to give up some place for which they have provided funding for projects such as senior centers. Representatives (be they state, county, or local) gain electoral security through this kind of trading. Incumbent protection gerrymanders tend to produce the least competitive elections, and if they are aided by a last minute production of the new district maps, newcomers are shut out.

When each party controls one chamber of the Legislature, which was the case in Delaware for decades, leaders negotiate these arrangements in secret to carve up the seats. This technique can also be used to punish incumbents who do not cooperate with their leaders. Representative Hazel Plant and Arthur Scott who sided with me in suing the General Assembly for failing to redistrict in 2001 according to law were purposely thrown into the same district, and Scott’s best election districts were given to another incumbent.

In 2011, redistricting could be under the control of one party. Many experienced incumbents are the best legislators, but unequal elections violate the State Constitution and strike at the very core of our American democracy

3 - Racial - The goal of racial gerrymandering is to secure the election of a candidate of a particular race. Section 2 of the federal Voting Rights Act now includes protection for “language minorities” such as Hispanics. Sometimes avoiding this is difficult to in large municipalities where groups tend to stick together. The need to break across the boundaries of Wilmington with lines extending into the suburbs and sometimes across areas separated by rivers and major highways has broken another rule that districts be as compact as possible.

The Civic League took a stand in 2002 to fight against unfair elections. The Census is next year. To stop this kind of nonsense, a bill must be passed this year to change the process.

If you want an increase in more fair and competitive districts, if you want to help invigorate campaigns and elections, if you want to boost the quality of our office holders and perhaps improve the state’s governance, please join the Civic League, the League of Women Voters and Common Cause in supporting Senate Bill 20 which will mandate an Independent Redistricting Commission.

Delaware currently has a system in which legislators determine where district lines will go. Do you think this is a conflict of interest?

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