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Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Nicholas Scutari. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for New Jersey Globe)

Democrats seek to postpone legislative redistricting until 2023 election

Proposed constitutional amendment would seek voter approval in November 2020

By David Wildstein, July 06 2020 2:27 pm

The current legislative map will get a two-year reprieve, if voters approve a plan by Democratic leaders to push off redistricting until the 2023, the New Jersey Globe has learned.

Senate and Assembly Democrats today introduced a proposed constitutional amendment that would push off legislative redistricting until after the 2021 general election, if the U.S. Census doesn’t certify the state’s new population numbers by February 15, 2021.

The proposal would require the Legislative Apportionment Commission to certify the new map after the November 2021 general election, but before December 31, 2021.

The plan, which heavily favors most incumbents in the short-term, gives legislators a 23-month advance look at what their districts will be. It also gives challengers a long window to plot a challenge.

It also makes Republican gains unlikely under a map that has produced a 26-14 Democratic majority in the Senate and a 52-28 Democratic majority in the Assembly.

“This is a desperate and greedy power grab by Democrat politicians in Trenton,” said Republican State Chairman Doug Steinhardt.  “It is one step shy of amending the Constitution to mandate a Democrat majority.”

It is unlikely that the census data will be ready by February. The Trump administration proposed a four-month extension to certify the census as a result of delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
They asked for a delay until July 31, 2021.

The constitutional amendment would keep the same rules in affect in perpetuity, as long as the U.S. Census can’t get numbers in before February 15 in the year following the census.

The bill proposes that “for the June primary and November general elections in that year ending in one, Senators and Assembly members will use their existing districts to run for a term of two years. The old districts will also be in effect in the year ending in two if any legislative election is held in that year.”

“This constitutional amendment requires the Apportionment Commission to delay its adoption of new legislative districts when the United States Census Bureau does not provide the Governor the redistricting census data by February 15 of the year ending in one,” the bills language states.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Nicholas Scutari (D-Linden) is sponsoring the bill in the Senate and Assemblyman John McKeon (D-West Orange) in the Assembly.

“This pandemic is creating an unforeseeable impact on the timeframe needed to get a complete and accurate census count,” McKeon said.  “While we hope the federal government will be able to get it done, we recognize the critical importance of having an alternative course of action should delays come to pass.”

“This change to the redistricting schedule will allow legislators to be elected that year from their existing districts for their two- year term in office,” the bill proposes. “The new districts will be used starting with the next state legislative elections in the year ending in three.

Steinhardt called New Jersey’s current legislative map “broken.”

“Republicans regularly garner a similar or larger number of votes than Democrats on a county or state level, yet due to a flawed map pick up few or no additional legislative seats,” he said.  “New Jersey Republicans have momentum after 2019 and with Phil Murphy’s COVID failures in 2020. New Jerseyans deserve a map that represents results, not protects incumbents, but instead Democrats are exploiting a crisis to preserve their power and this failed map for another two years.”

Through courtesy, not by law, the U.S. Census has provided New Jersey and four other states that hold legislative elections in the year after the census with early data.

In 2011, final census numbers arrived on February 3 and the map was ready for a June primary with just a small extension of the filing deadline. In 2001, when the number didn’t arrive until March 8, the primary was pushed to June 25.

The last date to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot for the upcoming general election is August 3, 2020.|

That’s not a simple process: moving a constitutional amendment forward this year would require 24 votes in the Senate and 48 in the Assembly. Democrats could do this without bi-partisan support, but that that assumes every wing of the New Jersey Democratic Party would be on the same page.

This story was updated at 3:40 PM and again at 7:07 PM with comment from Steinhardt.

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