If Alvin Montero had received approval from the Mercer County Democratic Party two nights ago for one of two seats on the Mercer County Council of Commissioners, he would have been the first Latin American to be elected to the county. If Yang Mei Wang had won, she would have been the first Asian American to be elected across the county.

But and Montero and Van lost for white candidates, and the governing body of Mercer County – a county in which together 36% of Hispanics or Asians – will not be a clear representative from either of these communities for at least another year. (Approving the party in county-level races is almost always tantamount to winning the nomination.)

Likewise, in all likelihood, there will be no Republicans on the council either. No Republican has won in Mercer County since 2000, and about 30 percent of Mercer County voters who are inclined to vote for Republican candidates have had no representation in the county government since, and the series is unlikely to end this year.

So last night’s results raise an important question: since the current system seems to consistently favor white Democrats, how can Mercer County better guarantee the representation of the large non-white and Republican population of the county?

One solution, though far from the only one, is to switch the board of trustees to the district system when commissioners are elected in individual constituencies rather than constituencies. Such a system already operates in Hudson County, while Essex and Atlantic counties have a hybrid system that elects some county commissioners and others in general.

If, like Hudson County, Mercer County elected a nine-member commission on the counties, Hispanic and Asian communities could have the right to vote in the county government, which struggled to include them, and Republicans could finally regain their seat on the council. which they’ve shut you down for decades.

A short story

The current system of electing seven district commissioners for a three-year term was adopted in a 1974 referendum; In the same year, Hudson, Atlantic and Union counties intercepted the governments of their counties, each of which adopted a different system.

At the time, Mercer County was about 85% white and 15% black, with an almost non-existent Latin American and Asian population. John Watson, father of the present rep. There was Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-Ewing). elected in 1970 as the then black member of the Council of Freelancers, and since then some representation of blacks on the council has been essentially guaranteed.

The commission now has two black members, Commissioners Samuel Frisbee and Terrence Stokes, the latter of whom unexpectedly upset the white incumbent Anne Cannon at last year’s party congress. But the other five commissioners are white, as are four Mercer County officers: County Executive Director Brian Hughes, Paul Salami-Kovel County Clerk, Sheriff Jack Kemler and Surrogate Diane Gerofsky.

Perhaps this is not very surprising, since all eleven positions are elected throughout the county in a county where there is still a mass of whites. According to the 2020 census, Mercer County has 44% whites, 22% Hispanics, 21% blacks and 14% Asians, so while the constituency as a whole consists of a majority, white voters make up the largest electoral bloc each time district elections. .

Mika Rasmussen, director of the New Jersey Rebovich Institute for Politics at Ryder University, said that while no candidate should be guaranteed a seat, the further failure of Mercer County Democrats to raise Hispanic and Asian candidates represents something like a missed opportunity. .

“You can’t just keep saying ‘no’ because that’s how you lose the enthusiasm of the community you’re trying to reach,” Rasmussen said. “Today, it’s hard for an Alvin Monte supporter to say that the party has found a place for him, and it’s to their detriment.”

As for the Republicans, the blame is not in the Mercer Democrats, but in simple guerrilla mathematics. When a general constituency was adopted in 1974, Mercer County continued to hold competitive elections frequently; However, those days are long over, and Republicans find themselves in a seemingly permanent minority.

An alternative system

If the constituency switched to a constituency system, minority communities that had to contend with many white electorate could be given more accurate representation in their districts, as well as republican areas jammed by the constituency with more Democrats. .

One proposal for the Mercer County Council of Commissioners. (Schedule: Joey Fox for the New Jersey Globe).

On the map shown here – which, to be clear, is just one purely speculative proposition – black, Latin American and Asian communities in Mercer County will be able to choose a candidate of their choice. North Trenton’s 3rd district is 67% black; The 4th district, which covers southern Trenton, is 69% Hispanic; and the 8th county in West Windsor is 46% Asian.

Two more constituencies, the 2nd in Ewing and the 5th in Inner Hamilton Townshin, are the majority minority and will represent a very diverse electorate of white, black and Hispanic voters.

This is not to say that any of these constituencies will necessarily elect a non-white candidate, of course, and the four constituencies with majority whites on the map do not necessarily elect white candidates. But unlike the current regime, municipalities with a majority minority, such as Trenton, Ewing and West Windsor, would not have to compete with the rest of the county for representation.

For Republicans, the 6th constituency, which covers the whiter and more conservative parts of Hamilton, would vote for former President Donald Trump on three points and would be won by a Republican candidate.

Republicans are now closed even from local government in Hamilton, which relies on the Democratic and elects council members as a whole. The constituency system would thus give Hamilton Republicans a political milestone they could not reach for a long time.

There are also exceptionally good government reasons to support the district system. Right now, all seven commissioners must both work across the county and try to represent the entire county after the election, each of which requires a huge amount of resources.

If their constituencies were reduced from 385,000 to about 43,000, this would allow commissioners to provide more local and personalized services to their communities and cast their votes according to the specific needs of their constituencies. Those who are suspicious of the county system of creation will also benefit, as out-of-network primary rates will become much easier in smaller counties.

Obstacles to change

As is the case when government reforms are proposed, there is no guarantee of maintaining Mercer County’s existing establishment, and Rasmussen said many Mercer politicians are likely to argue that the current system worked well without interference.

“What the authorities will say is,“ We ​​are doing great. Let’s continue to make sure we have diversity, ”he said.“ I guess they’ll argue that they’re doing what they have to do. ”

Such arguments would not be without merit. In the end, the current system led to the election of an additional black commissioner last year, and with the election this year of Commissioner Nina Melker and Lawrence board member Kathleen Lewis, a 20-majority commission is likely to be set up in 2023.

The district system may also not be very happy with the current members of the commission. Although nine constituencies would theoretically allow all seven incumbents to retain employment along with two new members, the geographical composition of the existing council makes this unlikely.

The two commissioners, Terence Stokes and Lucille Walker, are originally from Ewing, which means they will almost certainly be involved in the same area. Each of the municipalities surrounding Ewing – Hopewell, Lawrence and North Trenton – also has one commissioner (or will be if Lewis is elected), making a map convenient for each incumbent is very difficult.

Meanwhile, Commissioner John Chimina lives in the Republican section of distant Hamilton Township, which would be located in a competitive area on any fair map, forcing him to take the first-ever tough general election.

But while resistance to the county system may arise from some corners, many different counties will benefit: Latinos, Americans of Asian descent, Republicans, progressives who oppose the county line, and the political establishment in Trenton, which occupies only one of the 11 county branches despite That make up nearly a quarter of the county’s population.

If the commissioners themselves decide that they like the idea of ​​withdrawing from the general election, the process will be simple. The commission could put on the ballot the question of whether to change the structure of the county government, and if Mercer County voters approve the changes, they will take effect next year.

In case the commission does not want to redo itself, the organizers can instead go through a more cumbersome petition process. After collecting enough signatures under the petition, a referendum will be held on the establishment of a statutory commission to consider the structure of the county government; then this statutory commission would make a specific recommendation as to how the county government should be redesigned, which will then be put to a vote next year and take effect a year later (if approved by voters).

If something has been in place long enough, it can start to feel inevitable. But Mercer County’s current government system was completely changed after the 1974 referendum, and a similar departure from precedent could occur just as easily today; the question of whether those who have the levers of change in their hands decide is a necessity.

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