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Eagleton Institute Event: Understanding the Proposed N.J. Constitutional Amendment

October 6th, 2020, 1:00pm by Sam Wang


COVID-19 has delayed the U.S. Census and will complicate next year’s scheduled redrawing of legislative lines. In response, the New Jersey state legislature passed ACR188, a bill that would delay the redistricting process.

While all states will be affected by the prospect census data arriving later than expected in 2021, New Jersey and Virginia are unique, as they will hold state legislative elections that fall. Here’s our deep dive into what Amendment 3 does to fair representation, and whether it’s even necessary.

In response to a likely Census delay, the New Jersey State Legislature passed a constitutional amendment: ACR188. The amendment states that that if census results aren’t delivered by February 15 (an extremely early deadline), redistricting must be delayed for two years. This would keep the maps from 2011 in place until 2023. Most notably, this would be a permanent change. In effect, state legislative elections would not be held under new maps until November of a year ending in three (such as 2023).

Analysis conducted by the Princeton Gerrymandering Project finds that this would disproportionately harm communities of color. The Latino and Asians communities in New Jersey have grown by 20% this decade, waiting another two years would deny them better representation. This is a far larger disruption than even the worst Census count.

Indeed, we find that even if data were delivered to New Jersey as late as April, the federal statutory deadline, a map could be completed in time for a summer primary and a November election. In short, there’s no emergency.

New Jersey voters will decide this fall whether to approve this amendment or not (Public Question #3). They have to decide whether a once-in-a-lifetime delay due to COVID justifies a permanent change to the mechanism for how New Jerseyans are represented – especially since the solution proposed does not address the main problem of a Census, an undercount that affects things like federal reimbursements.

I recently spoke at a panel hosted by the Rutgers Eagleton Institute of Politics on the topic. Fellow panelists included Assemblyman John McKeon, Jesse Burns of the League of Women Voters, Assemblyman Christopher DePhillips, and Henal Patel of the NJ Institute for Social Justice. Above is a recording of our discussion.

Tags: 2020 Election · Redistricting

One Comment so far ↓

  • Greg Hullender

    Maybe this idea is already out there, but why isn’t the solution to gerrymandering just to allow both parties to submit maps and then use the map that generates the fewest “wasted votes?” (I think the wasted votes idea was yours, right?)

    It seems to me that would keep everyone honest and be simple to implement.

    As far as counting the wasted votes, if I’ve understood that discussion properly, it’s a matter of using the per-precinct results from one or more previous elections to compute the absolute value of the difference in votes for the Democrat and Republican in each district and then summing that across the whole map. There would be some issues around how to handle changes in precinct boundaries, what to do about third parties, and which prior elections to use in the calculation, but none of that sounds really hard.

    Sorry if this is all answered somewhere else on the site.

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