by Colleen Nichols

Hurricane Irene was not the only thing to shake up Delaware this year. The 2010 Census has sent County and City Councils scrambling to create redistricting plans that reflect the changes in their districts’ populations and comply with regulations. According to Antonio Prado, Staff Writer for the Dover Post, the Dover Election Board sent a redistricting plan to the Dover City Council that complies with a 1988 consent decree that requires “a minority district with at least 65 percent black voters 18 years old and older.”

This consent decree settled a lawsuit between the NAACP and the city of Dover, in which “the NAACP successfully argued that Dover’s at-large system of council elections was detrimental to the equal representation of the city’s minority voters.”

The Dover planners took into account natural boundaries, commonality of interests, subdivisions, roads, railroads, and census blocks when they redrew the four equal districts of 9,012 people. Dover City Geographic Information Systems Manager Mark Nowak noted that the planners had to move territory from District 1 to District 3 in order to not dilute the minority district. The redistricting plan results in a seventy percent black majority in District 4.

According to Prado, Cecil C. Wilson, the lead plaintiff in the civil action case against the city of Dover and former president of the Central Delaware NAACP, said, “We don’t want to see gerrymandering.” However, City Clerk Traci McDowell said that these new districts were somewhat gerrymandered because of the consent decree.

Sussex County also had to redraw its districts after the 2010 Census revealed that more people live east of U.S. 113 in four of five Council Districts than west for the first time in the state’s history. In the August 23, 2011 Sussex County Council Redistricting Report, County Attorney J. Everett Moore, Jr. noted that two of the five County Council districts now lie outside of the acceptable deviations. The Redistricting Report specified that the County Council’s goals in the redistricting process include keeping communities of interest together, avoiding the placement of current Council members within the same district, changing Council districts as little as possible, and ensuring that the increases in population match the increases in representation.

Based on the Proposed Districts’ Demographics in the Redistricting Report, each district would be at least 68% white. District 1 would have the highest black percentage at 20.55%, while District 2 would have the highest Hispanic percentage at 17.90%. The highest Asian population would reside in District 5 at 1.18%.

According to a News Release from the Sussex County Government, the County just adopted the redistricting ordinance at its November 15, 2011 meeting. The ordinance lets all of the current Council members keep their seats and does not force them to run against each other in 2012.

Meanwhile, Wilmington successfully passed its redistricting plan, but not without protest from Councilman Kevin F. Kelley Sr. Wilmington’s new plan realigned all of the city’s eight districts and unified the Wilmington Riverfront community under one Council member. According to Esteban Parra of The News Journal, Kelley opposed the plan because it transferred a section out of his district and divided communities that he used to represent. Kelley claimed, “We want to connect everybody together so that everybody works together. You can’t let an [Interstate] 95 and a train bridge separate everybody.” Despite Kelley’s argument, the City Council rejected his amendment and passed the redistricting plan 8-5.

According to Parra, some residents and business owners within the disputed communities approve of Wilmington’s new plan, while several other community members and civil association presidents oppose it.

As Delaware’s City and County Councils finalize their redistricting plans, it will be interesting to see how the new lines impact the 2012 elections in the First State.

Colleen Nichols is a first-year law student at William & Mary.

permalink: http://electls.blogs.wm.edu/2012/03/08/de-redistricting

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