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Gerrymandered Districts Ignore the Public Interest

Submitted by: Frank Sims

When Delaware changes district boundaries for the Senate and the House every ten years, legislators determine where their district boundaries will be. This is a self-serving method of redrawing district lines. It reflects the shifts in population to some extent but unnatural and not very cohesive districts often result. Cohesion is important because the interests of an area can be protected when more constituents are involved an issue. That makes a representative more attentive and gives him or her a chance to focus. Some districts cross into multiple school districts making familiarity with the problems in each a more time consuming challenge.

Allowing our State Legislature to redraw the boundaries to reflect population changes of the 21 Senatorial and 41 Representative districts in secret can be used by the leadership to punish incumbents who have disagreed with them. It can also be delayed to block challengers from starting to campaign early enough to defeat an incumbent. This is a violation of the equal elections mandated by the State Constitution.

In recent years, advances in information and mapping technology have enabled a level of precision in census district manipulation that enables legislators to choose the voters they wish to represent. Picking areas where they have more support is one way an incumbent can make it difficult for voters to hold him or her accountable. Democracy is thwarted during such redistricting. Naturally, they choose to keep activists who will help them get re-elected no matter what they may or may not have done in office.

Democracy requires at least three things: (1) Important decisions be made in the open. (2) The public and its representatives have an opportunity to debate them, so the policy decisions can be revised in the public interest. (3) Those who make the decisions be accountable to their constituents.

When district boundaries are redrawn behind closed doors, when the public is completely shut out of participating, when decisions are made on partisan or personal grounds, when there is no competitive requirement, when incumbent homes are considered, when elected officials are in charge of redistricting decisions, we have elected officials who have insured their re-election and do not have to be accountable to all the voters. Party leaders can draw new districts to favor potential candidates and exclude good prospective opponents.

In order to make your vote truly count in our legislative elections, to create more accountability from elected officials, and to put citizens -- not elected officials in charge of who gets elected -- we must remove redistricting decisions from the purview of partisan legislators and create an Independent Redistricting Commission. Senate Bill 20 does just that but it must pass this year to be effective. It has been ignored for 3 General Assemblies. We must bring attention to it and lobby to get it passed. Other groups will join if we do our part.

Tell your Representative and Senator to support Senate Bill 20 by calling Legislative Hall at 302-744-4351 for Democrats and 302-744 4171 for Republicans, then email all of them.

Editorial by Frank Sims

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