Jersey City will elect six ward councilmembers in November, but not necessarily to four-year terms.
The city’s population jumped by 18% over the last decade, from 247,597 to 292,449, according to U.S. Census Bureau data released on Thursday.
But the number of people who live in Jersey’s City’s Downtown Ward E, where much of the residential housing development has occurred, shot up by 59.5% since 2010. Ward E’s population, 69,320, accounts most of the city’s population increase.
“This will have important implications for drawing new ward boundaries, as the new ideal ward size is now 48,741,” local urbanist Matt da Silva said on Twitter.
Ten years ago, Ward E had a population of 45,992. Downtown saw a 30% increase between 2000 and 2010.
The coronavirus pandemic delayed the release of the 2020 census for more than six months. Otherwise, the new wards would have been in effect this year.
That means the Jersey City non-partisan municipal elections will be run off a ward apportionment conducted in 2011.
Now city council seats are being run off that map for the third time, with the winners of this year’s election expecting to stay in place until 2025, when day from the 2010 census will be 15 years old – and halfway through the 2020 census.
Like congressional and legislative districts, size matters in drawing local ward lines. The U.S. Supreme Court’s one-man, one-vote decision mandated voting maps to be drawn as close to equal in population as possible.
Two election lawyers told the New Jersey Globe that the current Jersey City ward map would be vulnerable to a federal court challenge, if someone files a lawsuit. They also suggested that the current packing of Ward F, where the population was 72% Black ten years ago, could also be challenged.
That has some key Hudson County political insiders concerned.
“These districts may not hold up,” said Michael Soliman, the top political advisor to U.S. Senator Bob Menendez. “This may be a one-year election.”
The incumbent Ward E councilman, James Solomon, is seeking re-election to a second term. He faces Jake Hudnut, the city’s chief municipal prosecutor and Mayor Steve Fulop’s running mate.
In addition to its outsized population, the Downtown ward has 55% more registered voters that some wards.
Ward A (Greenville) now has a population of 47,010, Ward B (West Side) is at 43,933, Ward C (Journal Square) was reported as 43,141, Ward D (The Heights) is at 40,680, and Ward F (Bergen-Lafayette) came in at 48,175.
About 21,000 current residents of Ward E will need to be redistricted into other wards.
Jersey City might also have the option of adding a seventh ward, either increasing the size of the city council from 9 to 10 or reducing the number of at-large council seats from 3 to 2.
That would bring the ideal size of a ward to 41,778.
It’s possible that the other six city councilmembers won’t want to pick up Downtown constituents and might prefer to shed some parts of their current ward – but in 2025. It’s unlikely that any incumbent would willingly seek to cut their term short and run again in 2022.
New elections, if they happen at all, wouldn’t change the results of the 2021 mayoral race, or at-large councilmembers — unless the total number was reduced.
New Jersey voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2020 to allow legislative redistricting to be pushed off to 2023 if the census data did not arrive by February.
Hudson County will also be drawing new districts for county commissioners for the 2023 elections. The new map would also be in effect for 2026 and 2029.
The same situation affects other municipalities with ward council elections in 2021, including Linden, Monroe, Old Bridge, Plainfield, Roselle, Summit, Toms River, Westfield and Woodbridge, depending on census data. Hoboken and Atlantic City have ward elections, but only at-large seats are up this year.