As the reapportionment committee prepares for its first public hearing later this month, the big question looming in political circles is which districts will change and what legislators could find themselves without a chair when the music stops.
While nuggets of both sides’ strategies have wiggled their way into public view – the Republican plan to make race an issue as they did in 2001 and the Democrats’ concession that Newark and Jersey City can only be split once, for instance – much of the process remains speculative.
But based on the 2010 census data already released and population estimates released last summer, there are a host of districts that will have to be altered, regardless of strategy and political intrigue.
New Jersey’s population of 8,791,894 means the ideal legislative district will represent just under 220,000 residents. According to the rules of the redistricting process, all districts must be within 5 percent of that number, giving map makers the leeway to construct districts of between 209,000 and 231,000 residents.
Another interpretation of the population requirement says the districts must fall within a 10 percent deviation from the smallest to the largest – meaning the smallest district must contain no more than 22,000 fewer residents than the largest district. But insiders say it is the 5 percent in either direction rule that was used in 2001 and will be used again this year.
Based on census estimates from last summer, that leaves at least 13 of the state’s 40 districts in line for a major reshuffling.
There are currently at least seven districts in need of bulking up on the new map: Essex County’s 27th, 29th and 34th Districts, Hudson’s 31st, 32nd and 33rd Districts and the 15th District in Mercer County.
The Essex and Hudson County Districts are further complicated by the decision to split Newark and Jersey City into only two districts instead of three. That decision could also potentially affect the 28th District, which contains a large portion of Newark.
The districts that are currently top heavy include two central districts – the 12th and 30th – the 2nd and 9th Districts along the shore, South Jersey’s 3rd District and the 23rd District in the Northwest portion of the state.
It’s unknown how either side plans to deal with the lopsided districts but some speculate the map will move at least one district south to balance the top heavy districts, while consolidating an equal number of northern districts.
The redistricting process, which both Republicans and Democrats view as crucial to their respective parties’ fortunes for the next decade has begun in earnest as the committee made up of five members from each party met for the first time Tuesday.
But while the public portion of the process has just begun, each side has been working for months to redraw the legislative map in a favorable way. The two parties have 30 days from the release of new census data – likely around Feb. 1 – to agree on a map before an “11th member” of the commission is named.
Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner has the sole discretion over the 11th member and sources say Rabner will name Rutgers Professor Alan Rosenthal to the position.
Should Rosenthal accept, he would have discretion over which map will govern the legislature for the next decade.
Follow all of PolitickerNJ’s redistricting coverage here.