Mapping out the future invites political cheating

The New Jersey Institute for Social Justice and the League of Women Voters of New Jersey sent a letter to the New Jersey Apportionment Commission with their analysis that the August release of the Census data was the “trigger date” to begin the process for state legislative redistricting and urging them to begin the process now.

The groups argue that despite some uncertainty regarding the trigger date, beginning the process at this time is dictated by the clear language of the recent constitutional amendment and public policy. A copy of the letter can be found here.

“In order for the redrawing of our district maps to be fair and representative of the diverse communities in New Jersey, there must be a robust and deliberate inclusion of public education and input, including public hearings,” said the groups. “This requires getting started as soon as possible as dictated under current law and with regard to public policy.”

The constitutional amendment passed last November (NJ. Const. art. IV, § 3, ¶ 4) in response to a delay in Census data collection states that the commission shall begin conducting its business upon the Governor’s receipt of the official decennial Census of the United States for New Jersey.

Due to difficulties stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, the Census Bureau this year is releasing the population count data twice, once on August 12 and another one expected in September.

Having two releases has caused confusion about which constitutes the trigger date for the commission to begin its business, including convening, drafting bylaws, public education and holding public hearings – all critical for allowing New Jersey’s communities to have a say in where their district lines will be drawn.

The groups, who acknowledge in their letter that all parties are acting in good faith, argue that the constitutional amendment language makes clear that the trigger date was Aug. 12.

They add that in the face of any ambiguity, however, legislative intent and public policy considerations further buttress this conclusion. Their letter provides a comprehensive and detailed legal analysis of the issue.

The letter concludes, “The commission is drawing new maps which will impact the lives of New Jersey residents for a decade. This process if the very foundation of our democracy. Waiting an additional month would further limit the time the commission would be able to deliberate, review the official census date, and, crucially, hear from New Jersey residents. Nobody knows New Jersey communities better than the people who live in them, and the more time the commission has to hear from the people of New Jersey the better both the process and final maps will be.”

The groups sent the letter to the commission last week. The commission has not yet indicated its plan for beginning the redistricting process.

A copy of the letter can be found here.

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