Democratic and Republican party leaders have made their picks for New Jersey’s Apportionment Commission — the ten-member body tasked with redistricting the state’s 40 legislative districts — and they do not come close to reflecting the true diversity of the Garden State. Of the ten voting members, there are only two women; there are no women of color; and there are no Latino participants. White men are already overrepresented in the New Jersey Legislature, and it’s apparent by these picks that this unfortunate trend will not change anytime soon. This lack of diversity is compounded by the recent passage of Public Question 3 on the November ballot, which will likely delay the implementation of a new legislative district map.
When New Jersey voters marked their ballots on November 3, one of the more important, and undercovered, measures was Public Question 3. The ballot initiative, which was passed with more than 57 percent of the vote, will “postpone the state legislative redistricting process until after the election on November 2, 2021, if the state receives federal census data after February 15, 2021.” While it may be seemingly benign on its face — the justification given is that the Trump administration’s ongoing efforts to sabotage and delay the census will harm the redistricting process — it will ultimately mitigate the political power and representation of New Jersey’s non-white communities who have significantly grown in population over the last decade. By delaying the redistricting process, New Jersey will use the current legislative map for an additional two years, even though it is based on 2010 census data that is woefully out of date and dramatically unrepresentative of New Jersey’s increasing diversity. This issue was so serious that landmark civil rights organizations including the New Jersey Institute of Social Justice and League of Women Voters of New Jersey led campaigns against the measure, urging residents to vote no.
To compile a commission that is unrepresentative of the state, after the passage of such a harmful ballot measure, is simply adding insult to injury. Rather than continuing to cement a process that benefits political insiders — who are overwhelmingly white men — leaders should have taken the opportunity to include community members who could help produce a more democratic and representative outcome. Far too often, our elected leaders express support for racial equity in word, but when it comes time to do so in deed, they fall short. This is, disappointingly, another chapter in that story.