New Jersey Voters Could Postpone Legislative Redistricting Until After Election Day 2021
Do you support or oppose New Jersey postponing legislative redistricting until after Election Day 2021?
by The 2020 Causes Voter Center | 10.25.20
What the Initiative Does
This legislatively referred constitutional amendment, known as New Jersey Public Question 3, would postpone New Jersey’s state legislative redistricting until after the election on November 2, 2021 if the state receives federal Census data after February 15, 2021. In this event, the current state legislative districts, which have been used since 2011, would remain in use for the 2021 election, and the state legislative elections in 2023 would be the first to use districts based on 2020 Census data.
If passed, this constitutional amendment would also use this delayed timeline in future redistricting cycles should federal Census data be received after February 15th in 2031, 2041, 2051 and so on.
Argument in Favor
In light of the Census Bureau’s request to delay the deadline for providing reapportionment data to the states by July 31, 2021, it would be prudent for New Jersey to plan for a contingency were the data to reapportion districts isn’t available in time for the June 8th state legislative primary. This is just such a contingency. It will only kick in if New Jersey doesn’t have reapportionment data by February 15, 2021 or February 15th in future redistricting years.
New Jersey Democrats’ attempts to delay reapportionment are a political ploy meant to ensure their control of the state legislature for another year regardless of voters’ opinions. This is undemocratic and shouldn’t be allowed.
Both chambers of the New Jersey State Legislature passed this constitutional amendment on July 30, 2020. The votes were largely along party lines, with Democrats supporting the amendment and all but one Senate Republican opposing the amendment.
“[A delay in receiving census data] will make it all but impossible to get the accurate information needed to draw legislative districts that are fair and accurate. An undercount will not only result in reduced federal funding, but also will have a negative impact on fair representation in the Legislature.”
State Sen. Vin Gopal (D) contends that waiting for new Census data before redistricting is necessary to ensure minority voter representation:
“Right now, minority communities, including the Hispanic and Asian communities, are drastically underrepresented in our State Legislature—in part because old Census records haven’t kept up with changing demographics. If we want to give everyone a voice in our government, we must draw legislative districts that accurately and faithfully reflect the most up-to-date Census data, while also drawing on comprehensive input from the public that this data represents. … Three municipalities in my own district have Census response rates below 50 percent—far below the State average—largely due to the difficulties of outreach during the COVID-19 pandemic. If we allow redistricting to go forward without fully counting these communities, we have failed them. That’s unacceptable. … We owe it to New Jersey’s diverse voters and communities to make sure that nobody is undercounted. The best way to do so is to pass this constitutional amendment this fall.”
John W. Bartlett, an attorney who served on the DNC’s legal team in the DNC vs. RNC case and who was New Jersey counsel to the Andrew Yang for President campaign, supports Public Question 3 as the best way to respond to the realities of 2021:
“Would it be awesome if we could do everything — thoughtful reapportionment, grassroots organizing and a timely primary — in 2021? Absolutely. But due to this year’s pandemic, the reality on the ground is that we can’t keep to the ordinary decennial schedule: Census data will be delayed. Attentively redrawing the lines will take time. And voters are entitled to as normal a 2021 election cycle as public health allows. Adopting this constitutional amendment will delay the reshaping of our legislative districts to reflect current population movement and emerging minority communities by two years. But a rushed process risks not responding effectively to those new realities at all. Given what’s at stake, I’d rather wait two more years, and get it right, and give all candidates an equal shot at the 2021 and 2023 primary ballots, than rush, create barriers to small ‘d’ democracy and lock in a bad map for 10 more years.”
Importantly, as Bartlett points out, passage of Question 3 wouldn’t prevent timely reapportionment should Census data be received in time:
“[I]f by some miracle we get the census reapportionment data sooner than expected, then redistricting goes ahead in 2021 as planned, even with your ‘yes’ vote: We only punt to 2023 if the state doesn’t have needed census data in hand by Feb. 15, 2021.”
Doug Steinhardt, chairperson of the New Jersey Republican Party, contends that this is an attempt to keep Democrats in power:
“Redistricting is not about getting a Republican map or a Democrat map, it’s about getting a fair map. The people of New Jersey deserve legislators that reflect the political and demographic makeup of our great state, and they haven’t enjoyed that in at least a decade. Democrats pushing this amendment to delay redistricting are trying to kill a fly with a sledgehammer, and are aiming to extend their majority for an additional two years."
The Philadelphia Inquirer Editorial Board shares Steinhardt’s view that would serve to give incumbents an unfair advantage:
“[C]hanging the constitution to automatically delay redistricting every time census data is only slightly late is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Redistricting delays are advantageous to incumbents and dilute the influence of growing communities. New Jersey voters should vote No on Question 3.”
As of 2020, the New Jersey Constitutional requires the state legislative redistricting commission to pass a redistricting plan within a month of receiving the official Census data. After the 2010 Census, data was received on February 3, 2011, and a new state legislative district map was adopted on April 3, 2011. Primaries using the new districts were held on June 7, 2011.
In 2021, New Jersey’s state legislative primaries are scheduled for June 8. This is before the Census Bureau’s July 31, 2021, deadline to deliver data needed for redistricting to the states (the deadline was previously April 1, 2021, but the Census Bureau asked Congress to extend the deadline in light of delays related to the COVID-19 pandemic).
Summary by Lorelei Yang
(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / filo)
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