With the release of municipal-level 2020 Census data today comes the prospect of congressional redistricting, critical for control of the House in 2022 and beyond. And while the layout of New Jersey’s 12 congressional districts won’t be known for several months, the data do show which of the current districts are underpopulated and overpopulated – a key factor in how they might be redrawn.
The most overpopulated district in the state is the 8th district (Sires), a majority-Hispanic district covering Elizabeth and parts of Newark and Jersey City, which has a population of approximately 821,000 – 47,000 higher than the 774,082 ideal population for a New Jersey congressional district.
The 9th (Pascrell) and 10th (Payne) districts, which similarly cover heavily urbanized areas in North Jersey, are overpopulated by around 18,000 and 42,000, respectively. Growth in cities like Jersey City and Hoboken, and to a lesser extent Newark, is driving the changes.
The 4th district (Smith), covering Ocean and Monmouth Counties and including the fast-growing city of Lakewood, is also overpopulated by around 24,000 people. Finally, the Mercer County-based 12th district currently has around 12,000 too many people.
On the other side of the ledger, the most underpopulated district is the 2nd (Van Drew), which covers the state’s southernmost counties. Without any large, growing city to anchor it, the district is underpopulated by more than 40,000 people.
The Bergen County-based 5th district (Gottheimer) is underpopulated by around 27,000 people, largely because of its municipalities in Sussex and Warren Counties, which either grew slowly or lost population between 2010 and 2020.
Also underpopulated are the 3rd (Kim) , 7th (Malinowski), and 11th (Sherrill) districts, which are predominantly suburban swing districts; the Camden-based 1st district; and the 6th district in Middlesex and Monmouth Counties. None are underpopulated by more than 25,000 people.
Still on the governor’s desk is a bill that would reassign incarcerated people from their prisons’ locations to their original hometowns, which would shift some congressional numbers further.
What these over- and underpopulation statistics mean for redistricting is that urban districts will likely be forced to shrink, while suburban and exurban districts grow to balance out their populations. But more concrete political implications – and which parties, politicians, and communities stand to benefit – won’t be known until the lines are drawn.