Commissioners say process is sound, but the idea to include minor party representation isn’t a bad one
Kent County Levy Court is hardly a partisan battleground. Of its seven commissioners, five are Democrats; and before the 2010 election, the panel had just one Republican member.
When the body votes on controversial issues, it’s rare to see a party-line split in the tally.
But when Levy Court delves into the process of tweaking the lines of its six representative districts later this year, party politics will be a central part of the discussion.
By law, Levy Court has 60 days after the results of U.S. Census are declared final to form a redistricting commission, comprised of seven members, each nominated by a commissioner.
However, the law also says no more than four members of the redistricting commission may be from the same party. This means one of Levy Court’s Democratic members must hand his nomination to someone from another party.
Even though the membership of the commission still favors the Democrats, and even though the adjustment of Levy Court’s district lines is almost certain to be a calm procedure rather than a controversial exercise, one Kent Countian is determined to liven up the process.
Dover resident Will McVay is chair of the Kent County Libertarian Party, and he thinks Levy Court’s Democratic majority should take this redistricting cycle as an opportunity to involve minor political parties.
At Levy Court’s January business meeting, McVay, who gained notoriety during a failed run for the state House last fall, publicly asked commissioners to consider appointing someone who isn’t a member of either major party to the redistricting commission.
“Our belief is that they should include an in independent voice, whether that’s a Libertarian, an Independent Party member or someone who’s not in any party whatsoever,” he said. “We think that they should have a voice that’s not representing either the Democrats or the Republicans.”
Commissioner George “Jody” Sweeney, a Democrat, said McVay’s push for the issue could be seen as self-serving, even though McVay has said he has no desire to be appointed to the redistricting committee himself.
“I’m sure that is his concern because he is from one of the smaller third parties, and everything Levy Court has done in my experience, we have been really fair, we go to great lengths to make sure there won’t be any partisan politics played on Levy Court,” he said. “I kind of discount Mr. McVay’s theory that Levy Court has some Machiavellian scheme. Levy Court just doesn’t play that type of game.”
McVay said he doesn’t believe Levy Court’s past redistricting processes have been unfair or resulted in “gerrymandered” district lines that favor one party over another, but he wants to make sure the process is as transparent and inclusive as possible.
“I’m sure there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the process now, but at the end of the day, when there’s something wrong with the process is when you’re not going to be able to fix it,” he said.
But Levy Court President P. Brooks Banta said he’s not so sure the process will change this year.
“Levy court could in fact choose to have a member of another party, I can only speak for myself and I am appointing a Democrat,” he said. “I think it will be safe to assume that there will be three Republicans and four Democrats.”
However, Banta and other commissioners said they’re not opposed to the idea of having a minor party member or unaffiliated voter on the redistricting board.
Since 25% of the county’s voters are neither Republicans nor Democrats, Banta said it might make sense to nominate a person to the redistricting board who is not a major party member.
“I think that might be a better method to look at in today’s world for fairness and equity,” Banta said.
Commissioner Eric Buckson, one of Levy Court’s two Republicans, also was enthusiastic about the idea.
“I think it’s a fair request, based on the number of independents registered in the county.
[An independent] is probably the most sensible person to appoint to an independent commission,” he said. “I think if you believe in its purest form politics should play a role in this, then let’s demonstrate that.”
That’s exactly what McVay is hoping Levy Court does.
“I’m not attacking Levy Court here, I’m sure they’ve been perfectly fair in the past. I think this is a way to demonstrate that fairness to the community,” he said.
Email Doug Denison at firstname.lastname@example.org