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.