Redistricting will not take place for another seven years. Yet the debate has already begun.
Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick (R-Union) is calling for a constitutional amendment to change the way New Jersey conducts the redistricting process. The likely gubernatorial candidate argues that creating legislative districts with the goal of making them more competitive would help New Jersey regain its bipartisanship, noting that “the districts have become so partisan, representatives play to the wings, and not to the middle.”
Redistricting is already a complicated and controversial process. After the U.S. Census is conducted every ten years, the states must evaluate their state legislative and congressional districts and redistribute the population as evenly as possible.
The redistricting process differs from state to state, with some maps drawn by state governors and others created by legislatures. In New Jersey, the task falls to the Apportionment Commission, which consists of ten members appointed in equal numbers by the chairmen of the State Democratic and Republican committees. If the Commissioners cannot agree on a map, which has always been the case, the Chief Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court appoints an 11th Commissioner. The state’s redistricting laws are silent as to the goals of the Commission when drawing up new maps.
Under Bramnick’s redistricting plan, which is similar to methods employed in California, Arizona, and Iowa, competitiveness would be the most important factor when redrawing legislative districts. Essentially, the legislative commission comprised of five Democrats and five Republicans would remain in place. However, the neutral tiebreaker would be required to prioritize the creation of competitive districts in choosing the final map.
In support of his plan, Bramnick notes that only three of the state’s 40 legislative districts are considered competitive. “If politicians do not fear the wrath of voters, there is no compelling interest for them to work across the aisle and produce results,” the Assembly Minority Leader stated.
Ironically, in order to change the state’s redistricting process, Bramnick will need the very bipartisan support that he contends the state lacks. To even get an amendment on the ballot, he must seek the approval of three-fifths of all the members of both the Senate and Assembly.
For a more in-depth discussion of the redistricting process, please see Redistricting and the Politics of Reform.