New Jersey voters asked if legislative redistricting should be delayed because of COVID-19
New Jersey voters are being asked to vote on a state constitutional amendment that if approved would allow the delay of legislative redistricting if census data is not ready by February 2021.
Ballot question No. 3 reads:
"Do you approve the Constitution to change when new legislative districts are created if the federal census data is delayed? The current COVID-19 pandemic has delayed census data collection. If New Jersey does not receive the census data in a timely manner, new legislative districts may not be ready in time for State legislative elections in the year ending in one. This change to the redistricting schedule allows legislators to be elected that year from their existing districts for their two-year term in office. The new districts will be used starting with the next scheduled general election for the State legislature."
Democratic state Assemblyman John McKeon says that New Jersey voters should approve this amendment.
“At the end of the day, the bottom line is we won’t have census numbers in time in order to redraw our districts,” he says.
New Jersey is divided into 40 legislative districts – each with two members of the state Assembly and one state senator. The boundary lines are redrawn every 10 years based on population information from the census, which has been delayed because of the virus.
“Either we can have a map based on bad numbers that will be in place for 10 years or we can continue with this map for at least eight years,” McKeon says.
Voting yes on the question could put off redistricting until after the 2021 election, when the entire State House and governor will be on the ballot.
“We won't have census numbers in time in order to accurately redraw our districts. It's to our economic advantage, knowing our federal aid is going to be counted per our population, and it's to be fair,” McKeon says.
But Republican state Sen. Kip Bateman says that New Jerseyans should not approve the amendment
“The way they phrased it, structured it, is, I think, a little bit confusing. People think that the fair issue is to vote yes, when really you should vote no,” he says.
Bateman represents Central Jersey’s 16th District. In 2011, the district was redrawn to feature towns like South Brunswick and Princeton – which have a large number of Democratic voters. Voting yes on the question would keep the district borders as they are when Bateman runs for reelection next November.
“My district now, I have four different counties, two county seats and if you look at my district, the 16th, it's really gerrymandered, no question about it,” he says.
“I respect Kip's opinion. He's in an interesting position, because his district if it's not redistricted, will be very, very competitive,” McKeon says.
“Listen, I wouldn't be running if I didn't think I could win,” Bateman says. “But I'm going to run hard and we'll see what happens. I also think the district should be a little bit fairer.”
Bateman says that the ballot question is just another way for Democrats to keep hold of their power in Trenton.
“I think that they’re using the coronavirus as their excuse to do this and I think it’s political…It’s not a partisan issue, it’s an issue of fairness,” Bateman says.
Gov. Phil Murphy voted yes on the question, but said last week the state should "let the chips fall where they fall" on redistricting.