Author: (AP Photo / Julio Cortez; AP Photo / Seth Wenig)
Bob Hagin, chairman of the State Republican Party (left), and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Middlesex) both expressed satisfaction with the two-party card.

The recently adopted New Jersey Legislature map will give voters new representatives in many parts of the state and could result in sending more Republicans to the State House. And it is also proof that Republicans and Democrats can compromise on a major political undertaking when circumstances arise.

But supporters of good government say it is not yet a perfect process.

“Our process was designed for a bipartisan consensus. For the first time, everything turned out exactly as planned, “said Henal Patel from the Institute of Social Justice in New Jersey. However, she added: “Bipartisan is not non-partisan.”

On Friday, the New Jersey Legislative Distribution Commission voted 9-2 to adopt a consensus map to be used in the 2024-2031 election. called The highway and Parkway cards, respectively. The chosen map does make a number of Republican constituencies more Republican, while several constituencies become more difficult for Democrats. However, most members of the delegations of both sides in the commission approved the map, for the first time since the process began in 1970.

Previously, the card was chosen by the commission only when the 11th member voted between competing Democratic and Republican proposals.

Something for both parties

Some Democrats have resented the fact that in the latest map, two incumbent senators are facing each other in the new 33rd constituency in Hudson County and the redrawn 27th in Essex. The map also makes the current Democratic 4th District in South Jersey and 16th in Central Jersey more competitive. But others in the party said it was a card they could live with.

“The map adopted today preserves all democratic districts and provides opportunities to expand our majority,” said Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Middlesex). “It also allows for a much-needed increase in the representation of colored people. I look forward to working to get a democratic majority in both houses of the legislature within these new constituencies. ”

Republicans were happier. Although some incumbent lawmakers have been transferred to different constituencies, they are not forced into primary clashes, and their new constituencies are still prone to the Republican Party. And the party will be more likely to win more seats in the 2023 election.

Bob Hugin, chairman of the Republican Party of New Jersey, said the new map “strengthens and strengthens the position of our Republicans in combat constituencies, but, last but not least, provides a number of competitive and offensive opportunities for withdrawal.”

He also said it gives the party a chance to take control of the legislature if it will fight and nominate good candidates.

But Mika Rasmussen, director of the New Jersey Institute of Politics at Ryder Rebovich University, said it was probably an exaggeration. Aside from the 4th district, which is really becoming competitive, the changes in the map should be seen as “adjustments” that don’t actually change the underlying state-wide dynamics.

“Yes, there are additional potential opportunities for Republicans to continue on the road, but anyone who is honest admits that it will take a wave of elections to see massive change,” he said. “In this regard, the new map is a series of adjustments to the latest map.”

Change for many voters

While this may not change the political party representing many districts, the new map will give hundreds of thousands of New Jersey residents new representation because of the number of municipalities it has moved from one district to another. In particular, some border lines in northern Jersey have been significantly redrawn, especially in the 25th and 26th counties of Morris County and in the counties of Essex, Hudson and South Bergen, where Newark, Jersey City and some other communities are home. with the highest population growth between the 2010 and 2020 censuses.

Once a decade the districts are rebuilt to balance the size of the districts and, theoretically, to reflect demographic changes in the population.

For lawyers, some who helped stop Democrat-led attempts change the rules and to give preference to the party that received the most votes in the election, the Legislative Committee listened much better to the public, including publishing the party’s proposals for an early card.

“The public issue of the cards was historic and crucial,” said Patel, who was a member of the Coalition of Fair Districts, which proposed its own card. “Now the question is whether this can become a permanent part of the process.”

“Fundamentally redefined” role

Rasmussen said Philip Karhman, a retired appellate judge who served as the 11th member of the commission, otherwise divided equally between the two sides, had “fundamentally redefined the role” formerly known as the tie-break.

“Instead of casting a decisive vote, Karhman created a two-party compromise card,” Rasmussen said. “In the age of polarization, I think this is important for public confidence. He was determined not to allow the final map to be labeled “Democrats” or “Republicans.” And it worked. If you use the metric, when both sides get what they wanted, but neither side gets everything they wanted, that mission was accomplished. ”

Patrick Murray, director of the Manmouth University Poll Institute, acknowledged to Karchman how the process worked, and said there could have been a different outcome if former Senate President Steve Sweeney had remained on the board. Sweeney, a Democrat, was very critical of the consensus map and would probably “fight much harder for Karchman to retain his tie-break role,” Murray said.

Murray said he hoped Karchman would write about this year’s trial and how he managed to reach an agreement. He said that, referring to Karchman, most of the reasons were “the power of his own identity”. But this success does not preclude the need for further reforms.

“The innkeeper is an exception that proves the need for reform in that you can’t repeat the innkeeper in every redistribution process,” Murray said.

Recalling the reform proposal he put forward along with others, Murray said the Transformation Commission should have three independent members, not just one, and should require an overwhelming majority vote to adopt the card. This should lead to the parties having to compromise, which Karhman was able to achieve, but this is not guaranteed in the future.

A stark contrast to the process in Congress

The actions and votes of the Legislative Commission differed significantly from the activities of the bipartisan body, which shortly before Christmas redrawn the boundaries of constituencies in Congress. The New Jersey Congressional Reconstruction Committee held 10 public hearings, but did not publish a single card for the party’s 13th member vote. tear your tie and side with the Democrats. Republicans challenged the card in state court, but lost.

Patel said it was “clear” that the Legislature had indeed listened to the public and advocated for some interest-bearing communities – with similar needs or goals – together, including Camden and Pensauken, New Brunswick and Dover , Moristown and some surrounding towns. However, the commission ignored calls to keep together or create new concentrations of Asians and Middle Eastern / North Africans in the areas.

Particularly worrying, Patel said, is the “packing” of black and Latin American voters in the 28th constituency in Essex and the 33rd in Hudson. The concentration of large numbers of people of any given group in an area breaks the ability of that group to influence neighboring areas. According to the commission, in the 28th constituency 67% are non-Hispanic blacks and 13% are Hispanic, and in the 33rd – about 68% are Hispanic with another 14% of blacks, Asian, multi-ethnic or other race.

Thus, although some have seen this year’s legislative redevelopment process better than past incarnations, it is still not as impartial as what is happening in some other states.

“We definitely need to consider other options,” Patel said. “Political opinions have priority in such party processes as ours. That’s how you get crowded areas and hacked communities. We need a more independent, transparent redistribution process, with a focus on public participation and racial justice. ”

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