For the first time, the public weighs in on drafts of N.J. legislative district maps

New Jersey Statehouse in Trenton

New Jersey Statehouse in Trenton. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

The public got its first chance to weigh in Wednesday on two proposals for New Jersey’s new legislative district map that will be in place for the next 10 years.

Some advocates for redistricting reform, including the Fair Districts Coalition, hailed the historic move by the state’s Reapportionment Commission, which made the decision to release the partisan-drawn maps and take public comment before its final vote.

At the meeting Wednesday afternoon, residents spoke in support of both proposals — one called the “Turnpike” map drawn by Democratic members of the commission and another called “Parkway” map, drawn by Republicans.

The Turnpike legislative map.
The Turnpike legislative map. (New Jersey Legislative Apportionment Commission)

Many urged commissioners not to split up communities of interest, including some neighboring communities of color, such as Hillside and Elizabeth.

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Amy Torres, executive director of the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice, said both maps “fail to fairly represent communities of color and immigrant communities.”

In particular, she said immigrants from Northern Africa and the Middle East have historically been “overlooked” in the reapportionment process and continue to be in the new maps presented.

“It’s not just about electing someone who looks like me or comes from my community. It’s also about someone who will legislate for me. People are looking for folks that will center their priorities in policy decisions,” Torres said.

Others expressed concern over competitiveness and the prospect of losing their current legislators.

“I really feel very strongly that the Turnpike map is a potential disaster to Morris County,” said Laura Ali, chair of the Morris County Republican Committee. “It’s breaking us up into six potential districts, which is ridiculous … and it’s breaking up two existing Assemblymen that cover District 26.

“I feel strongly that the Democrats, because they don’t beat us in the general election, are forcing unnecessary primaries upon us, where Assemblyman Weber would have to primary Assemblyman Bergen or Assemblywoman Dunn [in District 25],” she said.

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The Parkway legislative map.
The Parkway legislative map. (New Jersey Legislative Apportionment Commission)

At the beginning of each decade, the New Jersey Reapportionment Commission is tasked with redrawing districts that impact state Senate and General Assembly races.

State legislative districts are reapportioned to account for population growth or decline on the local and regional level — within municipalities and counties. The state Legislature is made up of 40 districts and commissioners must ensure that each district has close to the same amount of people. Since New Jersey now has an estimated population of 9.2 million, each legislative district will represent roughly 230,000 people.

Each district has one Senator and two General Assembly members.

Dave’s Redistricting App, a nonpartisan mapping tool, gave both high grades for proportionality and minority representation. Though, the Parkway map scored much higher for proportionality.

It also scored higher for competitiveness.

Micah Rasmussen, director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics, said Democratic commissioners “placed a premium” on maintaining as many “current lines of representation” as possible, because they control both houses of the Legislature.

“It shouldn’t be any surprise that Democrats are seeking to hold their majority,” Rasmussen said.

He also said Republican commissioners are more prone to create a more competitive map.

“They’re in the minority right now, and they need to be more aggressive,” he said.

Rasmussen added that the commissioners will likely take another stab at redrawing district lines following Wednesday’s public meeting.

The commission is made up of an equal number of Democrats and Republicans, with former Superior Court judge Philip Carchman serving as a tiebreaker.

He will choose either the Turnpike or Parkway maps after they are finalized.

Commissioners must vote on a final map by March 1.

Saturdays just got more interesting.

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