Jersey Promise, an Asian American advocacy group, is recommending that the state take into account communities of interest when drafting legislative district lines in 2021 to increase Asian-American representation in Trenton.
“To increase both substantive and descriptive representation of the needs of the Asian American community, Jersey Promise recommends that communities of interest should be considered as a redistricting principle in concert with other redistricting principles,” the group said in a report on New Jersey’s Asian Americans released Thursday.
“The over 940,000 Asian American residents are concentrated in certain areas of the state and could therefore easily become at the least a community of influence during the =redistricting of the state’s 40 legislative districts and indeed some of the 12 congressional districts.”
The group’s report found that Asian Americans make up more than 10% of the state’s population but accounted for only 1% of elected officials.
While the election of Rep. Andy Kim (D-Marlton) has given the state’s Asian American residents a level of representation in the House that is roughly in line with the New Jersey’s Asian American population, their representation in the legislature and municipal offices leaves much to be desired.
About 90 of the state’s 8,938 were Asian American, with most of those officials, 83%, serving on school boards.
Only two Asian Americans, State Sen. Vin Gopal (D-Long Branch) and Assemblyman Raj Mukherji (D-Jersey City), are currently serving in the state’s legislature.
“With respect to the Asian American immigrant community, we’re a diverse state, and it’s incredibly important that every New Jerseyan be counted, including our rapidly-growing and burgeoning Asian American community,” Mukherji said, referring to next year’s census. “So, every effort that we can make toward that end, I’d be supportive of.”
Mukherji is a named plaintiff in a suit against President Donald Trump’s administration that seeks to bar a citizenship census question that opponents argue could dissuade residents from participating in the census and leave immigrant populations vulnerable to an undercount, a possibility that greatly concerned Mukherji.
Jersey Promise co-founder and former Edison Mayor Jun Choi, who was the first Korean American to be elected mayor of a major New Jersey municipality, said that the group had been in talks with New Jersey Secretary of State Tahesha Way’s office to increase the representation of the state’s Asian American communities.
“When you talk about a 27-person Complete Count Commission, not a single member of that commission is Asian American. That’s 100% underrepresentation, and I think changing who counts affects who’s counting,” Jersey Promise co-founder and former Summit Councilman Richard Sun said. “And I think that will change how the districts are drawn.”
Sun said the group is necessarily not seeking to immediately create legislative or congressional districts that would elect Asian Americans. Instead, they are seeking to create districts where growing Asian American communities would be able to elect representatives as a block further down the line.
Jersey Promise named a small number of districts where Asian Americans account for 20% or more of the electorate.
Those sects, Sun wrote in the report could work with other groups to elect officials that would actively address the needs of the Asian American communities.
“When we talk about the next redistricting cycle, it’s not necessarily about drawing a map for 2022 but sort of understanding that our state will evolve over time so maybe by the middle of the decade, that district will support the robust and vibrant community that evolves,” Sun said.
Specifically, the report named the 37th and 18th legislative districts, which fall in Bergen and Middlesex Counties, respectively.
Communities in Jersey City and Hoboken, as well as parts of northern Somerset County and western Union County were also marked as potential sites for such districts.
Middlesex County hosts the largest Asian American population in the state, largely due to its high number of South Asian American residents — 24% of the county’s residents are Asian American.
“Middlesex is a surprise, and one of the recommendations that Richard and his team of advisers put together is around the next redistricting cycle, which is coming up soon, and it’s to include communities of interest at a much higher rate,” former Edison Mayor Jun Choi said. “We think, in particular, the 18th legislative district in Middlesex and others throughout the state are really interesting areas that could be higher Asian American in terms of the voter population.”
Though the more than 130,000 Indian Americans live in Middlesex County, no Asian Americans represent it in Trenton.
And lawmakers are wary of calling for changes to the makeups of the county’s districts with redistricting still relatively far away.
“I think it’s premature for me to comment on redistricting other than to note that it’s important, in my view, that the Democratic party retain its majority,” Mukherji said. “I think we reflect the values of New Jerseyans, and that includes diversity. Look around the room we’re in today. There is not a single non-white Republican member of the Assembly.”