N.J. voters will decide on constitutional amendment to delay redistricting

Results from the 2020 census might be delayed, which could complicate efforts to redraw district boundaries in time for N.J.’s 2021 state legislative elections.

New Jersey Statehouse in Trenton.

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

New Jersey voters will have the final say on whether the state should postpone redrawing state legislative district boundaries next year if there is a delay in receiving data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Lawmakers in both the state Senate and Assembly approved a proposed constitutional amendment Thursday that would require the state to keep the current electoral maps for the 2021 election if the state does not receive census data by February 15.

“There’s just not a lot of good options here,” said Assemblyman John McKeon, D-Morris, who sponsored the measure. “None of us created this virus.”

McKeon said a delay in receiving census data next year would create a compressed timeline for the state’s odd-year legislative elections.

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But Republicans and good government groups have come out against the measure. They said New Jersey has dealt with delays in getting census data before, and that it would be wrong to permanently change the state constitution to fix a one-off problem.

“This measure is unnecessary and it’s extreme,” said state Sen. Kip Bateman, R-Somerset. “It’s not about fairness or accuracy. It’s about protecting incumbents and the majority party’s two decades of control in the legislature.”

In 2001, when census results were late, New Jersey put off its June primary by three weeks.

The proposed constitutional amendment will go before voters in this year’s November election.

If approved, the state would hold the 2021 elections with the current district boundaries and redraw them for 2023 elections. The proposed amendment does not affect redrawing congressional district boundaries for the 2022 election. That is done through a different process and would have less of an issue with a few months’ delay in receiving final numbers.

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