The Republican members of the commissions charged with redrawing congressional and legislative districts over the next few months have given New Jersey Secretary of State Tahesha Way until August 2 to answer questions about how the state will adjust municipal population numbers to reflect new laws on the allocations of incarcerated individuals.
A law passed earlier this year requires state officials to jigger U.S. Census data before redistricting begins based on where inmates in state correctional facilities used to reside for the purpose of congressional redistricting. A bill doing the same thing for legislative redistricting is currently on Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk.
Legislative Apportionment Commission Republican Chairman Al Barlas and Congressional Redistricting Commission GOP Chairman Doug Steinhardt say that the once-straightforward process of municipal population data “has been greatly complicated by the Census Bureau’s use of differential privacy in the 2020 census.”
“This statistical technique deliberately manipulates census data to assertedly protect the confidentiality of respondents by introducing ‘statistical noise; into both population totals and demographic characteristics,” Barlas and Steinhardt told Way in a letter obtained by the New Jersey Globe. “Although the statewide population total provided by the Census Bureau will be accurate, both the population totals for political subdivisions within the State and the reported characteristics of individuals residing in any particular census block will be riddled with statistical noise.”
According to Barlas and Steinhardt, census data deceived by the state Department of Corrections won’t match records on individuals in prisons and jails.
“For example, a census block with a correctional institution might be reported at 800 people by the Census,” they said. “The DOC records might indicate 600 people at that facility, or 1000 people at that facility. Similarly, the Census might report that facility as having 600 white residents, but DOC records might indicate only 400 white residents.”
They said it “presents obvious complications for redistricting when the census data will not align with the DOC data.”
The Republicans have asked the State and Corrections departments to brief congressional and legislative redistricting commissioners from both parties so they can work together to resolve issues before the census data is released on August 16.
The GOP leaders also laid down a marker to ensure that Democrats don’t get the data before they do.
“All relevant data should be provided to the bipartisan members of each commission, as well as the respective commission tiebreakers, at the same time and in the same format,” Barlas and Steinhardt wrote.
The Republicans want to know of there is a plan for “addressing the consequences of differential privacy with regard to New Jersey’s prison populations” and the Department of Corrections how will discrepancies between census and DOC data be rectified.”
“If a facility’s population is in fact higher than the number that Census reports, what will happen to the number of people in that ‘delta?” the Republicans asked. “If a facility’s population is in fact lower than the number the Census reports, what will happen to the number of people in that ‘delta’?”
Barlas and Steinhardt also want to know what happens if the “characteristics” provided by the Department of Corrections don’t match the reported characteristics from the U.S. Census Bureau.
“What will the process for determining which white, black, Asian, Hispanic, non-Hispanic or other race or ethnicity status will be assigned to what ‘home’ census block?” they asked Way.
“What is the process for addressing individuals who are incarcerated in New Jersey correctional facilities but do not have a previous residential address within the state?”
The Republicans also requested the Way provide them with a timeline about how long the reassignment process will take and on what date will she “expect to make that data simultaneously available to all members of the commission and the public.”