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Gov. Phil Murphy. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for New Jersey Globe)

Redistricting ballot question low on governor’s list of priorities

Murphy votes in favor but says he’ll ‘let the chips fall where they fall’

By Nikita Biryukov, October 22 2020 2:54 pm

Gov. Phil Murphy voted in favor of a ballot question that would allow the state the delay its reapportionment if it doesn’t receive Census data by Feb. 15, but he doesn’t expect to lobby for the referendum.

“I haven’t given it a tremendous amount of focus,” Murphy said during a virtual virus briefing Thursday. “I voted for it, but I think it’s one of these ones where we let the chips fall where they fall. And if that’s what the voters decide, we’ll do everything we need to do as a state government.”

The ballot redistricting measure has faced criticism and opposition from grassroots and good government groups, including the League of Women Voters, the NAACP, New Jersey Policy Perspective and the New jersey Institute for Social Justice, among others.

The groups charge delaying the state’s reapportionment would disenfranchise non-white — chiefly Latino and Asian — voters who have seen their populations grow far faster than those of other races.

Should the voters approve the amendment, legislative races in 2021 would be run using the current map, meaning such voters could have their power diluted for an extra two years.

The measure’s backers argue there’s little choice. With the start of this year’s census delayed by about three months because of the pandemic, some Democrats in the legislature worried the Census Bureau would be unable to provide complete counts in time for the New Jersey’s June primaries.

The Census traditionally provides preliminary counts to New Jersey and four other states that hold odd-year legislative races ahead of its full data release to allow the states enough time to redraw district lines.

Some Democrats have argued the recently counts would come late enough to force a primary in late October, just weeks before the general election, though the amendment’s opponents have argued the delays would, at worst, make New Jersey hold its primaries later in the summer or in September.

New Jersey has delayed its primaries before. In 2001, primaries were delayed weeks and held in late June. In 2013, the state held an August primary for a special election to fill the seat of late U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg.

Neighboring New York holds its primaries in September.

But while the governor personally supported the measure, he said it’s not a key issue for the administration.

“On this one, there’s passion, I know, on both sides of it,” Murphy said. “This is one where I haven’t had the level of passion as compared to, say, the social justice implications of legalizing cannabis for recreational, which I have huge passion for.”

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