Delay redistricting? NJ voters to decide on keeping current map
New Jersey voters will decide whether to delay state redistricting two years and keep the Democrat-dominated legislative map for one extra election under a proposed constitutional amendment that will be on the November ballot.
The inclusion of the proposed amendment was approved Thursday by votes of 25-15 in the Senate and 51-26 in the Assembly, clearing the requirement that it receive three-fifths approval to make the ballot in a single-year vote.
The plan was conceived due to delays in the 2020 census that are likely to make it impossible for New Jersey to receive the redistricting data in time to keep its schedule for redrawing boundaries of the 40 legislative districts in time for the 2021 election.
Although some progressive groups oppose the plan because it would delay consideration of population changes likely to count big increases in people of Asian and Hispanic descent, the vote was entirely on party lines with all Democrats for it and all Republicans opposed.
“All that we’re doing is saying that this map, which is ordinarily a 10-year map, is going to go to 12,” said Assemblyman John McKeon, D-Essex.
“There’s just not a lot of good options here. None of us created this virus. None of us asked that the federal Census Bureau pause by four months what they would have ordinarily been doing,” he said.
Republican say Democrats ignored other options, such as changing the 2021 election calendar to include a fall primary or even delay the November election. The proposal calls for delaying redistricting any time the census data isn’t received by Feb. 15 – which is fairly common, given that federal law doesn’t require its delivery until March 31. And it was also written to apply permanently, not just during COVID-19.
“If this were really just about the pandemic, the resolution would only offer a one-time fix, and it does not,” said Assemblyman Chris DePhillips, R-Bergen. “Let’s not be so cavalier about amending the constitution in perpetuity.”
Sen. Christopher "Kip" Bateman, R-Somerset, said if the amendment is approved by voters, the population changes measured by the 2020 census won’t be reflected in the Statehouse until 2024.
“It should be clear that this measure is unnecessary and it’s extreme. It is not about fairness or accuracy. It’s about protecting incumbents and the majority party’s two decades of control of the Legislature,” Bateman said. “It’s shameful that anyone would try to use the cover of a public health emergency to try to amend our New Jersey constitution in a way that is so overly political.”
Sen. Bob Singer, R-Ocean, whose 30th District is the second most populous in the state, according to 2019 Census Bureau population estimates, said residents in growing areas and demographic groups are entitled to proper representation.
“This absolutely shortchanges the minority populations of this state. This by itself is a racist move to do this type of thing,” Singer said.
“That’s part of the deep state – not wanting to see a change, protecting yourself, not caring about minority representation or areas of the state where I live which have grown tremendously, that may have another district down there,” Singer said. “Again, not knowing if that person is Democrat or Republican. Unimportant. It’s a question about representation, fair representation for every voter.”
Sen. Dick Codey, D-Essex, said the change is necessary because the census is being delayed by the coronavirus. To date, 64.7% of New Jersey households have responded to the census – but that still leaves around 1.36 million addresses to be visited by census-takers.
“Let’s be real here. Even if this day and age of modern technology, it is not easy to do the census,” Codey said. “You have to go door to door. Who is the hell is going to open their door to a stranger?”
Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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