Last week, the final members of the commission charged with the decennial redrawing New Jersey’s congressional district boundaries were named. Now all they need is the data.
Every 10 years, as required by the Constitution, each state reconfigures its congressional districts in response to population changes measured by the official U.S. census count. This year, New Jersey’s population growth was larger than expected, allowing it to keep all 12 of its House seats. That makes the job of redrawing district lines somewhat easier than a decade ago, when the state lost a seat.
Currently, Democrats hold 10 of the 12 seats in New Jersey. In the House of Representatives, Democrats hold a nine-vote edge over Republicans.
Who draws the new map?
The New Jersey Redistricting Commission starts off as a 12-member body. It is separate from the New Jersey Apportionment Commission, which is charged with redrawing state legislative district boundaries once a decade. Democratic and Republican leaders each choose six members. The president of the Senate, speaker of the Assembly, minority leaders of the Senate and Assembly and chairs of the two major parties each gets to choose two members.
The Democrats named: Janice Fuller, former chief of staff to Rep. Frank Pallone (D-6th), will chair the delegation, Stephanie Lagos, chief of staff to first lady Tammy Murphy, former Camden mayor Dana Redd, a Camden County commissioner, executive director of the Middlesex County Democratic Organization Iris Michelle Delgado, and Sen. Vin Gopal (D-Monmouth).
Republicans named: Doug Steinhardt, a lawyer and the former state Republican chair , Lynda Pagliughi, vice chair of the state GOP, Mark LoGrippo, a councilman in Tom Kean, Jr’s hometown of Westfield, Jeanne Dovgala Ashmore, who worked in the Christie administration, Mark Duffy, executive director of the Assembly Republicans and Michele Albano, fundraising coordinator with Bramnick’s Assembly Republican Victory leadership PAC.
The 13th member, who will serve as the chair, is to be chosen by both delegations by July 15. If they can’t agree on a choice, they send their top two choices to the state Supreme Court, which is charged with choosing the more qualified of the two by majority vote no later than Aug. 10. This person must be a resident of the state for at least the past five years and cannot have held either public or political party office during that time.
What does the commission do?
The Redistricting Commission redraws only congressional district boundary lines, based on census data the state has yet to receive.
There are fewer written rules for the composition of congressional districts than for legislative districts. The process is mostly driven by the U.S. Voting Rights Act and case law.
First, the districts must have essentially the same populations. The census count of the state population at 9.29 million means each district should roughly contain about 774,000 residents. According to the 2019 Census American Community Survey estimates, the southernmost 2nd District currently represented by Republican Jeff Van Drew had the smallest population and would have to expand the most if the actual counts confirm that.
Members of the public can submit their own proposals for district boundaries to the commission, which is required to consider them. A number of online programs allow people to draw their own maps and it is likely that several will make their own submissions to the commission.
While commission members could work together or with the chairman on a consensus map, it is more likely for each party to craft its own map, with the chairman choosing one and voting with that delegation to approve the new boundaries.
What’s the timeline?
According to the state Constitution, the commission must hold an organizational meeting by Sept. 8. Then it sets its schedule of other meetings, including many that can be held behind closed doors. The commission is required to hold three public hearings in different parts of the state. It can choose to hold more. That schedule will be set after the commission organizes. In addition to the three public hearings, the only other public meeting the commission must hold is the one at which the members vote on a map.
The Census Bureau expects to provide states with the data they need to draw boundaries in August or September. The final map must be approved by Jan. 18.
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