N.J. Democratic leaders pull controversial redistricting plan ahead of vote

Protesters picket outside the N.J. State House in Trenton minutes before legislators hold public hearings on a controversial redistricting plan. (Joe Hernandez/WHYY)

Protesters picket outside the N.J. State House in Trenton minutes before legislators hold public hearings on a controversial redistricting plan. (Joe Hernandez/WHYY)

Democratic leaders in New Jersey have done an about-face on a controversial plan to change how the state draws its legislative district lines.

Senate President Steve Sweeny and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin pulled their plan late Saturday ahead of a scheduled vote Monday after good-government groups, progressives, nonpartisan voting experts, Republicans, and even some fellow Democrats cried foul.

The plan would have changed the membership of the state’s redistricting commission and forced the commission to use a formula that critics charge would have given Democrats a tighter grip on power in the Legislature in an already blue state. Protesters who picketed hearings on the measure in Trenton last week said the bill would amount to little more than nonpartisan gerrymandering, diminishing the power of voters.

In a statement, Sweeney said canceling Monday’s vote will give leaders time “to review the input we have received from the public, our legislative colleagues and others to determine if any of these ideas would improve the proposal.

“We recognize the importance of this issue,” he continued. “Redistricting provides the foundation for the democratic process and it gives voice to voters. We will maintain an open mind as we continue to work on a proposal that best serves the electoral process and the values of our democracy.”

Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat who has his reservations about the bill, praised Sweeney and Coughlin for pulling the plan.

“I’m grateful they heard the voices of so many within New Jersey and around the country who saw that the proposal would have made our Legislature less representative and less accountable,” he said.

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