News

May 15, 2002

When they enter the voting machines in November, many Brandywine Hundred residents will wonder if they are at a wrong poll. The ballots will contain some familiar names, but they will not be in familiar places.

Fully a third of the electorate will find themselves in different state legislative districts as the result of the recently enacted reapportionment of the General Assembly. Those who have advanced beyond Civics 101 will recognize that the incumbents seeking re-election are not necessarily the same people they or their neighbors voted into office two years ago and who have been speaking for them in Dover since then.

Since Delaware politics tends to be a one-on-one proposition, that means there will be a lot of getting acquainted being done between now and election day.

Determining who shakes whose hand, however, will not be all that simple. Although a legal requirement that districts consist of entirely contiguous territory has been met, most of the new Brandywine Hundred districts have shapes which, at a minimum, stretch geographic logic and which evoke reference to the gerrymander..

The political landscape has changed drastically, according to Ernest Cragg. He has kept close watch on the situation as it developed in his dual capacity as Brandywine Hundred chairman of the Republican party and chairman of the legislative committee of the Council of Civic Organizations of Brandywine Hundred.

Although the reapportionment process took the better part of a year longer than programmed to accomplish and the squabble between the Democrat-dominated state Senate and the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, which came close to requiring a court to decide the matter, drew a fair amount of media attention, the final results are just beginning to percolate down to civic activists. For the most part, the general public hasn't a clue.

It is not yet widely recognized, for instance, that Brandywine Hundred will have one fewer delegate in the House of Representatives. That 20% reduction means that the remaining representatives will have somewhat larger territories and more constituents to mind.

Among its practical consequences will be the fact that state resources -- such as the $300,000 in suburban street-repair money that each lawmaker receives annually -- will be spread thinner. More immediately, it means that two influential incumbents -- David Brady, a Democrat from Claymont who has served many years, and Wayne Smith, who currently is Republican majority leader -- will square off against each other in November and only one will go back to the Assembly in January.

Brady's Eighth Representative District literally went south. It will be lodged in  the western half of the portion of New Castle County which lies south of the Chesapeake & Delaware Canal and includes Middletown. Ten years ago, the Seventh District  took the same course and from here forward will encompass the southeastern portion of the county, including Odessa.

Cragg explained that the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark 1962 decision that required nearly equal representation in state and local legislatures means that, as population grows, new seats must be added or existing seats shifted from areas with

What is gerrymandering?

The term derives from Governor Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts who, in 1812, was responsible for defining an election district in a shape resembling a salamander in order to give his party an advantage.

relatively stable populations to areas where the population is growing. The seats must be realigned and the related districts reapportioned every 10 years following completion of the federal census mandated by the Constitution.

Although there initially was an effort to enlarge the General Assembly, the final compromise kept  the Senate at 21 seats and the House at 41.

Delaware is one of 36 states in which reapportionment is done by the legislatures. The other 14 use independent commissions. Since elections are, of course, an integral part of the political process, it is difficult to argue that there is anything wrong with using the political process to establish the districts which form the basis for elections. At the same time, human

nature cannot be factored out of the equation.

"A politician's first thought is to protect himself. Next he protects his party. Then, if there is something left over, he protects his friends across the aisle," Cragg said.

There is a mix of that evidenced in the reapportionment of Brandywine Hundred.

For starters, state law requires that senators and representatives live in their districts for at least a year before standing for election. That has given rise to a curious media practice in Delaware of identifying the lawmakers, in most instances,  not by district or area but by individual suburban subdivisions although not urban neighborhoods.

In redefining the districts, lawmakers assured that all incumbents' residences remained within their districts. Smith's districts was redrawn so that, among other things, it includes Brady's home, which had been in the adjacent but no-longer-there district.

Presently, Brandywine Hundred has two Republican senators and four Republican and one Democratic representative. Based on voter registration, Republicans hold the advantage in three of the four newly drawn representative districts. But there is one heavily Democratic senatorial district shared with Wilmington, one heavily Republican shared with adjacent Christiana Hundred, and one that is nearly evenly divided. The Republican-controlled House defined the representative districts and the Democrat-dominated Senate did the districts in that chamber.

In Delaware elections, split tickets are common and party labels more often than not count for far fewer votes than in other places. Nevertheless, whatever amount of political juggling went into drawing the maps, they have emerged with a considerable amount of geographic anomalies.

Robert Valihura's 10th District, for instance was given a finger-like projection eastward along the state's northern arc to include a small portion of northern Claymont. At the same time it was stretched westward so that it now covers an area from Kennett Pike to the Delaware River.

The strangest new shape, a butterfly design, defines the 11th District, in which Gregory Lavelle is the incumbent. It stretches across the hundred with its western and eastern 'wings' connected by a narrow strip along Wilson Road and a tiny part of southern Graylyn Crest. It, too, has a narrow projection into Claymont.

David Ennis's sixth district still extends in part from Concord Pike to the river, but the major change involving there was moving its northern boundary along the Philadelphia Pike corridor into Claymont. Thus that unincorporated community will now be included in all four Brandywine Hundred representative districts.

Small portions of the hundred also are in two primarily Wilmington districts -- Augustine Ridge and Rock Manor in Republican Joseph DiPinto's Fourth District and the area between north Wilmington and Edgemoor Road in Democrat Dennis Williams's First District

The most dramatic change in on the Senate side finds Harris McDowell's First Senatorial District, previously a city district, extended along the river to Harvey Road -- which also is in Claymont.

To accommodate that change, Dallas Winslow's Fourth District has been shifted westward to include all of so-called chateau country in Christiana Hundred. Catherine Cloutier's Fifth District is the most geographically compact and the only one entirely within Brandywine Hundred.

Political demographics of the new districts

District Incumbent Democrats Pct. Dem. Republicans Pct. Rep. Others Pct. others
Senate:
First McDowell

13,546

48.7%

8,023

28.9%

6,230

22.4%

Fourth Winslow

8,765

28.6%

14,755

48.2%

7,103

23.2%

Fifth Cloutier

10,515

38.4%

10,687

39.0%

6,216

22.7%

House of Representatives:
Sixth Ennis

5,973

39.3%

5,496

36.1%

3,739

24.6%

Seventh Smith

5,164

33.9%

6,642

43.7%

3,408

22.4%

10th Valihura

5,515

36.2%

6,256

41.1%

3,447

22.6%

11th Lavelle

5,173

33.7%

6,412

41.8%

3,747

24.4%

Numbers are registered voters; reapportionment itself was based on total population.
SOURCE: Delaware General Assembly. (Some percentages recalculated by Delaforum because of obvious calculation errors in sourced data.)

2002. All rights reserved.

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