Voters asked to delay redistricting if census delayed as expected
The coronavirus delayed this year’s census, raising the likelihood that details about the population count won’t arrive until farther into next year than had been expected.
New Jersey is usually one of the states first in line for getting census results, so it can redraw its legislative districts in time for its next election. Because that’s likely to be delayed, Democrats are asking voters to delay redistricting by two years – but some question if that’s really necessary.
New Jersey usually gets its data in February because it’s one of two states, along with Virginia, with legislative elections the year after the census. Assemblyman John McKeon, D-Essex, said it has been told this time it would come in mid-June.
“There’s nothing perfect here but we’re living in imperfect times,” McKeon said.
Jesse Burns, executive director of the League of Women Voters of New Jersey, said the Feb. 15 deadline in the proposed constitutional amendment is far too early and that in past decades, redistricting was done on schedule even when data arrived after that date.
“Decade after decade, we will be faced with this early permanent Feb. 15 deadline,” Burns said.
Princeton University professor Sam Wang said a regular November election is still possible even if the data arrive as late as April 23. It’s possible to get it as late as July 1 and delay the general election until December.
“It strikes me as a solution that solves a problem that doesn’t quite exist,” Wang, director of the Princeton Gerrymandering Project, said of the proposed amendment.
McKeon said primaries after redistricting are chaotic even under normal circumstances. He said a compressed schedule would put newcomers at a huge disadvantage, including a one-week sprint to get together nominating petitions once the new districts are drawn and then to fundraise.
“Those Feb. 15 dates or God knows any time after that are an incumbent’s dream,” said McKeon, who said trying to fit redistricting into a year with delayed census results “would to me be as undemocratic as it could possibly be.”
But most good-government groups have joined Republicans in opposing the ballot question.
Opponents of the amendment say Asian and Hispanic populations have grown 40% since the last census but those changes wouldn’t be reflected in the map for an extra two years. They say changes in Bergen and Middlesex counties could allow maps to be drawn in ways that better reflect those changes.
Assemblyman Chris DePhillips. R-Bergen, said it sets an arbitrary deadline with no connection to federal law, which only guarantees the census data by March 31, using the guise of the pandemic.
“If this were really about the pandemic, this resolution would have offered a one-time fix. But it does not do that,” he said.
Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at email@example.com.