The state governing bodies this afternoon passed Assembly Concurrent Resolution No. 188 and SCR-123, a constitutional amendment modifying the schedule for adopting the legislative districts when the census data is delayed, in this specific instance on account of COVID-19.
Voters will have the opportunity to approve a plan to ensure the fairness and accuracy of the census count that is so important to the redistricting process, Senator Nick Scutari (D-22) declared after the Senate voted in support of the proposed constitutional amendment.
“We already know that the census will be delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the delay could become even longer,” said Scutari, sponsor of the proposal in the senate. “That will make it all but impossible to get the accurate information needed to draw legislative districts that are fair and accurate. An undercount will not only result in reduced federal funding, but also will have a negative impact on fair representation in the Legislature. The amendment will help protect communities of color and other hard-to-count populations that stand to make significant gains due to increases in their numbers over the last decade.”
Assemblyman John McKeon (D-27) took the lead on the floor of the Assembly to argue the merits of his resolution.
McKeon and his colleagues passed the measure by a tally of 51-26-0.
“The dates of this cycle are going to be even further than that projected date now [as a consequence of COVID-19],” McKeon said.
He met strenuous resistance from Republicans, who expressed skepticism about Democrats’ real aims.
Assemblyman Chris DePhilips (R-40) gnawed on the resolution on the floor.
“It offers permanant changes under the guise of the pandemic,” said the Bergen-based assemblyman.
The New Jersey Republican State Committee also issued a statement critical of the measure. “Redistricting is not about getting a Republican map or a Democrat map, it’s about getting a fair map,” said Chairman Doug Steinhardt. “The people of New Jersey deserve legislators that reflect the political and demographic makeup of our great state, and they haven’t enjoyed that in at least a decade. Democrats pushing this amendment to delay redistricting are trying to kill a fly with a sledgehammer, and are aiming to extend their majority for an additional two years. A reasonable path to a 2021 election on new lines exists.
“The NJGOP remains opposed to this constitutional amendment and, if passed today, will fight against it in the Fall,” Steinhardt added.
The senate would later pass its own version of the bill (25-15), divided along the same partisan lines.
Senator Kip Bateman (R-16) took the lead in opposition to the bill and his colleagues joined him.
“The Latino caucus and Black caucus should be standing with us,” said Senator Bob Singer (R-30). “This legislation does not care about people. It cares about protection of incumbents. That’s part of the deep state: not wanting to see change. It’s a quesiton of fair representation for every voter. I urge members of the Latino and Black caucus to say ‘not on our watch.'”
Senator Dick Codey (D-27) countered.
“I don’t think you should tell minorities what they should do or not do,” Codey said. “Who in the hell is going to open their door to a stranger [in COVID-19 conditions]? That’s why it should be changed, and that’s the only reason. They can’t get a fair count. Middle class towns, wealthy towns – they’re not opening their doors.”
“Unfortunately my Republican friends don’t put black folks on tickets to win,” said senator Ronald L. Rice (D-28), chairman of the Black Legislative Caucus.
He did, however, give a nod to Assemblyman Antwan McClellan (R-2) of Ocean City, the GOP’s lone black representative in the legislature.
“He’s there because people worked with him to put him on there, not because the district is primarily a minority district,” Rice said. “I want to make sure Republicans and Democrats have an opportunity to get fair reprentation based on a full count.”
That can’t happen, he said, because of the current encumbrances of COVID-19.
“This is an opportunity for how redistricting should really be set up,” the veteran Newark-based senator added.
But his Ocean County adversary wasn’t buying it.
“Why permanently? There’s something rotten in Denmark,” Singer said.
From the bill:
“The United States Constitution requires a census to be taken every ten years to count the people living in the United States. Data received by the states from the United States Census Bureau is used to create new legislative districts at the start of each new decade to ensure residents have equal representation from their elected officials. However, in New Jersey, if the federal census data is not received by February 15 of the year ending in one, the new legislative districts cannot be ready on time to meet the legal deadlines for state legislative elections, causing disruptions in the election process. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused the United States Census Bureau to delay its procedures for collecting census data. This delay in data collection may delay the release of the census data to the states, possibly as late as July 31, 2021. This means that New Jersey will not receive the population count on time to create the new legislative districts to meet the legal deadlines for the 2021 State legislative elections.
“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.
“Currently, the State Constitution requires new legislative districts to be adopted every 10 years following the Governor’s receipt of the decennial census results. The United States Census Bureau conducts the count of the population in each year ending in zero, and provides this data to the states in the year following the year in which the census is taken, ending in one. The State Constitution requires the Apportionment Commission to certify the new legislative districts within one month after the Governor receives the official census data for New Jersey, or on or before February 1 of the year ending in one, whichever date is later. If the 10-member bipartisan commission cannot adopt the new districts within that month, then the Supreme Court appoints an independent member to break the tie vote. The 11-member commission then has one more month to adopt the new districts. Usually, the new districts are ready to be used in the June primary and November general elections for legislators that occur in that year ending in one. However, if the census data is delayed, the new legislative districts would not be ready on time to meet these State legislative election deadlines.”