Posted: Sept. 13, 2011
PIN THE TAIL ON THE NUMBERS
By Celia Cohen
Trying to make sense of the district numbers in the Delaware General Assembly, particularly in the House of Representatives, is like random digit dialing. There is no telling where it ends up.
The 1st Representative District and the 2nd Representative District? No problem. They are next to one another in Wilmington.
But the 13th and the 14th? No way. The 13th is Elsmere. The 14th is Rehoboth Beach. They could be neighbors, but only if the driveway was 87 miles long.
Redistricting did this. Redistricting and the legislators' irrational insistence on clinging to their district numbers like they were guns or religion or lucky charms or something.
The district numbers get more and more out of whack every 10 years, when districts have to be collapsed in some places and opened in others to remedy the population shifts. There is no reason not to renumber the districts instead of, say, assigning the number of the old 20th Representative District in Hockessin to a new district in Sussex County, but the legislators will not have it.
Pete Schwartzkopf, the House's Democratic majority leader who was in charge of redistricting, talked about re-sequencing the numbers when the maps were redrawn this year for the 2012 election, but he did not talk about it for long.
"It got shot down pretty quickly," Schwartzkopf said. "The number is important to the people who live there and the people who represent it, and what harm is it?"
No harm really, as long as Delaware does not mind having its districts look like the leavings of a wild game of "Pin the Tail on the Donkey." Even the election officials do not mind.
"There would be logical people that might not like it, but it doesn't make any difference to us," said Elaine Manlove, the state election commissioner.
One of those logical people was Christine Whitehead, a retired lawyer who made the case for renumbering at a public hearing in Legislative Hall in Dover, but to no avail.
"Please create some sequential, organized numbering system that uses smaller to larger numbers north to south. Scattering them all over the state in no order looks like you are trying to make it harder for anyone to do a voter analysis based on the last election results. To the national groups that follow what states do with redistricting, it looks ridiculous," Whitehead said.
Never mind that the state is assuming the look of a giant bingo card. People really do get attached to their numbers.
Take the 29th Representative District in Kent County. The Republican committee members there named themselves the "Fightin' 29th." They do not want their number changed. Ever.
"I don't remember exactly when we decided to call ourselves that, but it gets everybody energized," said Cathy Murray, a former Republican state vice-chair who lives in the 29th.
The district numbers loom so large that it was the one favor done for Dave Sokola, a Democratic senator from Pike Creek Valley. Sokola and Liane Sorenson, the Republican minority whip, were clumped into one district that has more of her constituents than his but kept his old district number.
At least Sokola could keep using his campaign signs. The number from Sorenson's 6th Senatorial District was relocated to Sussex County. It sits among the 18th and 20th districts.
Welcome to Delaware, the state that cannot count straight.