Princeton Gerrymandering Project: Flaws in New Jersey’s Proposed Redistricting Delay (ACR188)

Princeton Gerrymandering Project

Update – July 16, 2020

Covid-19 has slowed the Census, and fair districting may take a hit. States around the country are responding – but a poorly-crafted response in New Jersey may partially cede control over redistricting to the federal government and deprive growing Latino and Asian populations of fair district lines.

The U.S. Census Bureau has asked Congress to allow a delayed delivery of redistricting data. As a result, many states are considering adjustments to their redistricting schedule. Here in New Jersey, the legislature is considering Assembly Concurrent Resolution 188 (ACR188), a state constitutional amendment to modify the legislative redistricting schedule. ACR188 would mandate that if Census data is not received by February 15 of a year ending in one (such as 2021), New Jersey’s Legislative Reapportionment Commission would have until March 1 of a year ending in two (such as 2022) to draw maps. In effect, state legislative elections would not be held under new maps until November of a year ending in three (such as 2023).

One obscure provision in ACR188 may inadvertently give up power to the federal government: the February 15 deadline. This deadline may be set off repeatedly in the future, by accident or even on purpose. The U.S. Code requires that the Census Bureau deliver redistricting data to states by April 1 in 2021 – and 2031, 2041, and onward. For New Jersey and Virginia, which have off-year elections, the Bureau usually provides data ahead of the April 1 requirement as a courtesy. But with ACR188’s new provision, the Census Bureau could use its discretion to wait until after February 15th. That could put the decision for when to redistrict New Jersey into the hands of future Presidential administrations. In short, ACR188 takes a once-in-a-lifetime (we hope!) pandemic and turns it into a recipe for repeated delays in fair representation.

There’s a second bug in ACR188: it may distort representation for communities of color. Proponents of ACR188 claim that it buys time for the U.S. Census Bureau to come out with a more accurate count. But the Census Bureau’s numbers are not a matter of negotiation, and ACR188’s proposed delay will not do any good to change that reality for communities of color. Indeed, there is an opposite effect. Where New Jersey used to be one year ahead of the country in using Census data to reflect demographic changes, we will instead be one year behind everyone else.

Latino and Asian communities are among those who would suffer from a delay in getting new district lines. According to federal estimates using the American Community Survey, Latino and Asian populations have grown by 20 percent since 2010 – over 400,000 people. This is as many people as there are in two whole Assembly or Senate districts. ACR188 will unnecessarily delay the redrawing of lines to reflect that demographic change.

Key demographic changes are illustrated in the district maps below.

Demographic Changes (%) by District: Latino (left) and Asian (right)
Click image for larger version.

Of particular note:

  • In all but four districts, the Latino or Asian populations have increased.
  • In nine districts, the Asian share of the population is now above 15%. In another nine districts, the Latino share is above 25%. In fact, in 13 districts, the Latino and Asian populations combined are above 33% of the population share.
  • District 36 has a Latino share that rose from 37 to 40%, and District 18 has an Asian share that rose from 28 to 31%. District 18 has an Asian and Latino combined population that rose from 37 to 40%. These increases could indicate new opportunity-to-elect districts that now might not be realized until three years after the Census.
Combined Asian & Latino Population (%) by District
Click image for larger version.

This brings us to another little-appreciated fact about redistricting: bad redistricting can have large effects on representation. In a 2019 federal court case concerning state House lines in southeastern Virginia, 11 of 12 challenged districts with majority African-American populations were invalidated as unconstitutional racial gerrymanders. A special master redrew 25 districts to increase the number of electoral opportunity districts by spreading the Black voting age population (BVAP) more evenly between districts. Within these newly-drawn districts, four seats flipped during 2019’s Virginia House of Delegates elections.

In other words, from 2011 to 2019, African-American voters in Virginia were deprived of four districts. Not even the worst Census count would have accomplished that. In each district that flipped, the BVAP rose by more than 7.4% due to the redrawn map. This number is only slightly larger than the predicted growth of the Asian and Latino populations in most of New Jersey’s current districts.

No matter what map is drawn in New Jersey, the result will still likely favor the majority party: Democrats. The question, then, is whether the state’s growing Asian and Latino communities will have the chance to elect candidates of their choice.

Two critical decision points lie ahead: On July 20, a public hearing on ACR188 will be held. We encourage New Jersey reformers to attend. Then, the amendment has to pass both chambers of the legislature by August 3 with three-fifths majorities. Contact your Assembly member or Senator to weigh in on ACR188.

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