Home>Highlight>Before you start drawing maps, here are some things you need to know about redistricting

Before you start drawing maps, here are some things you need to know about redistricting

Remember: if you’ve seen one tiebreaker, you’ve seen one tiebreaker

By David Wildstein, August 10 2021 11:50 am

New Jersey’s road to redistricting begins in earnest on Thursday when the U.S. Census Bureau releases municipal population numbers.  If you’re going to start drawing your own maps, here are a few numbers you need to know:

* 9,288,994 is the total population of New Jersey, up from 8,791,894 in 2010.

* 774,083 will be the new size of congressional districts starting in 2022, up from 732,658.

* 232,225 is the ideal new size of a legislative district, up from 222,055.

Traditionally, tiebreakers favor maps where each of the 40 legislative districts are close to equal in size.  In 2011, a 5% deviation was used; that would be districts between 220,614 and 243,836 people.  But the closer in size the districts are, the better a map will look to a tiebreaker.

While the State Constitution limits districts to be within 20% of the ideal population, 185,780 to 278,670, there is federal case law that puts the limits at 10%: 209,002 to 255,447.

But, keep your districts tight – as close to 232,225 as possible – or they won’t be taken as seriously,

Here’ six other things you should know about drawing maps, after your read the Voting Rights Act:

1. Congressional districts are easier to draw since any municipality can be split into two (or more) districts.   For legislative districts, only two cities – Newark and Jersey City – can be divided.  And they can only be split once, which means they must sit entirely within no more than two districts.

2. You can’t use packing and cracking to draw a district.  Courts have banned the practice of packing too many voters of one type into a district as to dilute their interests in another district.  Cracking is when you scatter those same voters among another district (or districts) in order to dilute minority representation.

3. Districts need to be geographically contiguous.  They may jump water, but only if it’s not necessary to leave the district to travel there. Every decade, mapmakers talk about a legislative district that includes Bayonne and Elizabeth, but that would require going through Newark – something that makes the plan unworkable.  But you can drive from Rutherford to Passaic.

4. Tiebreakers don’t always like reapportionment hijacking, which is the practice of forcing incumbents to either face off in a primary or general election – or push one of the incumbents into retirement.

5. Watch out for “kidnapping,” a practice that deliberately moves an incumbent’s hometown to another district specifically to make him or her more vulnerable to defeat.

6.  Keep an eye on the shape of the district.  Tiebreakers like them to be compact in appearance – not too elongated and not too many noticeably odd forms.  There are some exceptions: the current 12th legislative district looks like a less than sign (<).  A 1982 congressional district that went from Elizabeth to Princeton and then back north to Marlboro was known as the “Fishhook District” and a federal court invalidated it after just two years.

Remember, if you’ve seen one tiebreaker, you’ve seen one tiebreaker.  Some of this may or may not matter, depending on what the deciding voter views as priorities.

One more bit of advice: don’t just draw a few districts, draw the entire state map.  When you draw just a few districts and walk away, it’s possible that your plan won’t work as part of a statewide puzzle.

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