The Center Square's Kim Jarrett reports
Several groups are opposing a bill that would delay New Jersey’s redistricting process until 2023 and allow 2021 district elections to be held based on current district lines.
The Assembly Judiciary Committee voted to send the bill to the Speaker for consideration after hearing about two and a half hours of testimony on Thursday with Republican members voting "no."
New Jersey is one of only two states that holds district elections in 2021. The bill’s Democratic sponsors say the change is needed because the 2020 Census Bureau data needed to redraw district lines might not be available until the end of July 2021 instead of February.
The issue will require a constitutional amendment approved by voters in November and will also apply to any subsequent years when Census data is delayed.
“This pandemic is creating an unforeseeable impact on the timeframe needed to get a complete and accurate census count,” said Assemblyman John McKeon, D-Essex, the primary sponsor who testified before the Assembly Judiciary Committee at Thursday’s hearing. “An undercount could not only prove detrimental to the way federal funding gets apportioned over the next decade, but would largely affect the way our communities are represented through all levels of government.”
But the current legislative map, drawn in 2011, is no longer representative of New Jersey, Henal Patel of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice said.
“New Jersey has become increasingly more racially diverse with people of color comprising 45 percent of the population of our state now,” Patel said. Conducting another election using this non-representative map as this bill proposes should not happen, she said.
McKeon said the bill had to be passed by the committee before the end of the day Thursday so that it could be on the ballot. Some of the speakers opposing the bill pointed out that the Census Bureau announced on April 13 that the data would be delayed due to the pandemic.
“We knew four months ago the census data was going to be a problem,” David Pringle of Clean Water Action said. “You didn’t engage us and now you are saying ‘take it or leave it.’”
Republicans were quick to oppose the bill after its release Monday.
“There are less draconian solutions to this issue than amending the constitution, and not only amending the constitution but making the proposed constitutional changes permanent,” Assemblyman Christopher DePhillips, R-Bergen said during Thursday’s hearing.
The bill is the “least bad solution,” the committee’s chair, Raj Mukherji, D-Hudson, said.
“It’s not ideal but nothing in 2020 seems to be,” Mukherji said before putting the bill before the committee for a vote.
Assemblyman Robert Auth, R-Bergan, said Mukherji’s statements were contradictory.
“You basically just forgotten about the testimony we heard,” Auth said. “We had two people tell us that communities of color, the Asian population, the Hispanic population, are all going to take it on the chin from this piece of legislation,” Auth said. “And yet you sat here and said that this is going to help them.”