Re-Drawing our Political Future

By CHRISTOPHER J. DURKIN

In reaction to the process of re-districting, Denver Post columnist Diane Carman said, “Taking the partisanship out of politics is like trying to take the sex out of porn.”

In March of 1966, New Jersey voters selected 126 delegates, 22 of which were legislators, to the state’s third constitutional convention. This was done through a special election with no other issues or candidates on the ballot drastically reducing voter turnout, when only 3 percent of eligible voters went to the polls.

When the delegates arrived at Rutgers University on March 21, 1966, they wanted to take the duty of redistricting both congressional and legislative maps out of the hands of the legislature and have a commission assume those responsibilities.

The U.S. Constitution (Article1, Section II) requires that there be a census every ten years in order to apportion the seats in the House of Representatives among the states.

Article I Section II of the New Jersey State Constitution explains the selecting of the commission for congressional redistricting and lays out dates that must be adhered to.

The 13 member commission shall consist of two members appointed by the President of the Senate, two members appointed by the Speaker of the General Assembly, two members appointed by the minority leader of the Senate, two members appointed by the minority leader of the General Assembly, two members appointed by the Democratic State Chair, two members appointed by the Republican State Chair and one independent member appointed by at least 7 of the previous appointed members. If the 12 member commission cannot decide on the 13th member then the State Supreme Court decides from the top two vote getters at the final vote for the independent member.

New Jersey is expected to lose one of its 13 Congressional seats when the census data is released due to a shift in our nation’s population. The northeastern and mid western states are expected to lose 16 seats to the south and west. This impending shift of 16 Congressional seats will both increase and decrease the amount of Electoral votes in 18 states thereby affecting the outcome of the 2012 Presidential election.

The legislative redistricting commission consists of 10 members. The Republican and Democratic State Chairs choose five members each. The official census is given to the governor on or about February 1, 2011. The commission is then granted 30 days to agree on a redistricted map. If they are unable to do so, the State Supreme Court Justice appoints an independent member to be the decisive vote. The independent member, who is usually a college professor, can either choose one of the maps or work with one or both of the parties to change the map to meet his/her criteria.

In March of 2001 Larry Bartels, professor of political science at Princeton University, was appointed by the N.J. Supreme Court Justice when the Commission was deadlocked. Bartels decided in April to side with the Democrats’ plan because he thought it better met the criteria believed to be important by various courts and legislators – racial makeup, population equality and physical shape.

“The New Jersey redistricting process is far from being non-partisan, since 10 of the 11 members of the Apportionment Commission are appointed by the state party chairs,” says Bartels. “But the equality between the parties, and the presence of a non-partisan tie-breaker, give the process a very different dynamic than it would have if either party had a clear majority.”

New Jersey is one of only 5 states where a commission oversees both congressional and legislative redistricting. In 36 states the legislature draws the maps with the governor’s approval. There is no need for congressional redistricting in 7 states due to the fact that population dictates only one representative from each of those states.

In the states in which the legislature draws the lines for redistricting we are allowing the majority party at that specific time to control the process which is all about self preservation.

In sending only 22 legislators out of our 126 member delegation to the 1966 Constitutional Convention, New Jersey was able to make great progress in changing the way we re-draw our election districts.

No offense to politicians. None taken.

Christopher J. Durkin is the Essex County Clerk Re-Drawing our Political Future