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Assembly holds hearing on redistricting constitutional amendment

By David Wildstein, July 20 2020 3:36 pm

The Assembly Judiciary Committee heard testimony today on a proposed constitutional amendment that would retain the 2011 legislative redistricting map for the 2021 general election and hold off on drawing a new map until 2023.

By holding a public hearing, the legislature checks a box that requires public input during a 20-day period before either House votes on the amendment.

Democratic legislative leaders have pushed for the measure, which keeps a map viewed as favorable to Democrats for another two years.

The move to amend the State Constitution followed a request by the U.S. Census Bureau to delay the certification of 2020 population data by four months after the count was slowed down by the coronavirus pandemic.

Yuri Rudensky, a redistricting expert for the Brennan Center, said that the delay – Census officials told the state this month that they don’t expect data until June 17, 2021 – means there won’t be time to redraw legislative maps for a June primary election.

Rudensky challenged the legislature’s call to make this a permanent provision, rather than a one-off.

“Delaying redistricting by two years is a really big deal. Populations change and districts after 10 years no longer provide adequate representation for many communities,” Rudensky said on Twitter.  “In NJ this is particularly true for Latino and Asian populations that have grown significantly.”

But according to Rudensky, the proposal could cause permanent damage to redistricting down the road.

“The desire to create certainty around redistricting given the pandemic and census delays is understandable,” he said.  “But ACR 188 makes permanent changes that could cause real harm in the future by pushing redistricting when unnecessary and doesn’t take up more meaningful reform.”

Assemblyman Benjie Wimberley (D-Paterson) said that without “significant multi-lingual door-to-door and community outreach, Paterson will be severely disadvantaged due to the coronavirus for a decade if we don’t have a complete Census count.”

“There’s a lot we could lose financially without a complete count. If Paterson’s census count is above 150,000, we would become a city of the first class which would mean more funding for hospitals, education, and public safety,” said Wimberly.  “For cities like Paterson and others in my district, it is critical that we make sure everyone gets counted and the full count is included when we begin the legislative redistricting process.”

Another urban legislator, Assemblywoman Britnee Timberlake (D-East Orange), said that census data is incomplete.

“ That is why we legislators are choosing the greater good and want to make sure everyone is accounted for, the resources are based on a more accurate count of those represented,” she said “New Jersey is a Casino state, I am not willing to gamble resources and representation because of an incomplete census count during the pandemic.”

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