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Fatal flaws in New Jersey’s redistricting “reform”

December 11th, 2018, 12:37pm by Sam Wang


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

The Princeton Gerrymandering Project has compared New Jersey’s redistricting legislation, S.C.R. 43/A.C.R. 205, to the current system that is already in place. We find that the proposed legislation would not improve quantitative measures of fairness. Furthermore, it opens the door to several forms of partisan and racial gerrymandering.

Here are the major points:

  • The formula (pseudo-“competitiveness” and partisan symmetry) still allows gerrymandering.
  • It gives partisans a way to fool the independent commissioner, and does not bring the parties closer together.
  • It does not guard against the single biggest threat to the Voting Rights Act.
  • A do-nothing bad bill forecloses the possibility of a better bill.

Details:

The symmetry criterion still allows a partisan gerrymander. The legislation says that 20 districts shall be more Democratic than average, and 20 districts shall be more Republican than average. However, in a partisan-leaning state like New Jersey, this pattern can still allow a partisan gerrymander by Democrats if most districts are placed very close to the average.

The competitiveness formula has little effect. The formula for so-called “competitiveness” does not impose any meaningful constraints on partisan gerrymandering, relative to the current process. Instead, it still allows either party to commit a partisan gerrymander by creating many pseudo-”competitive” districts. In most cases, these are still safe districts for Democrats. This has been noticed by the press and good-government groups.

These rules still allow gerrymandering. Maryland Democrats committed a Congressional gerrymander that would have passed both the symmetry and so-called “competitiveness” criteria. (For a demonstration of how a partisan gerrymander in a partisan-leaning state like Maryland or New Jersey can meet these criteria, see Wang 2016, 15 Election Law Journal 367.) The Maryland map is now being litigated in Benisek v. Lamone, one of the highest-profile redistricting cases of the last year. And by artful application of the rules, Republicans can also still commit a gerrymander (see our analysis of December 5th).

A.C.R. 205 gives partisans a way to fool the independent commissioner. Because the legislation rewards so-called “competitiveness” by telling the tiebreaking commissioner they were maximizing this feature, partisans can persuade the independent to sign off on a partisan gerrymander, favoring either Republicans or Democrats.

A.C.R. 205 does not guard against the single biggest threat to the Voting Rights Act. The U.S. Supreme Court has already invalidated Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act (protecting voting rights) via the Shelby County v. Holder decision. Section 2 (restraining racially discriminatory redistricting) is currently still in effect, but this could change in the near future with a hostile Supreme Court. A.C.R. 205 does nothing to protect those rights in New Jersey.

A.C.R. 205 does not bring the parties closer together. A.C.R. 205 allows the creation of plans that are nearly as far apart as what the law currently allows. The commission deadlocked in 2001 and 2011, and this bill is unlikely to produce a different result. Because it does not bring the two parties’ positions closer together, it does nothing to broker a compromise plan.

A do-nothing bad bill forecloses the possibility of a better bill. This bill takes up space that could be used for real reforms.

Contact: Sam Wang (sswang@princeton.edu), Will Adler (wtadler@), Ben Williams (bw18@)

 

Tags: Redistricting

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