Twice in the past four years, the Democrats controlling the Legislature have attempted surprise redistricting changes to help ensure elections keep them in power. Widespread opposition forced them to back off both times.
Now they’re trying again, maybe figuring the third time’s the charm. They introduced a constitutional amendment on Monday and quickly held an online hearing on it Thursday to put off the once-a-decade redistricting for two years. If passed in the fall, that would allow incumbents to run next year — when all 120 Legislature seats are on the ballot — in the decade-old districts that elected them.
The redistricting update to ensure the fairness and equal value of votes by all ethnic and political groups would be put off if the 2020 census data for it is delayed by as little as two weeks. Republicans are uniformly opposed and point out that election dates could easily be pushed back if needed, as was done by Gov. Murphy in last week’s primary vote.
At least the Democrats’ rush job isn’t as egregious and self-serving as last time.
At the end of 2018, the party pushed an end-of-session constitutional amendment that would have required redistricting maps to be based on statewide votes (for president, governor, U.S. senators) instead of votes in New Jersey’s local election districts. That would have favored the big, Democrat-dominated cities of North Jersey at the expense of the more centrist and conservative central and southern parts of the state.
The Democrats’ attempt to rig the redistricting process to gain a decade-long (or more) advantage was quickly opposed by virtually every good government group.
The League of Women Voters called the proposal “undemocratic.” The Brennan Center for Justice said, “Attempting to mandate political outcomes is not the best way to reform redistricting — and, in fact, could open the door to gerrymandering.” The state chapter of the NAACP said “this proposal will virtually ensure the voting power of communities of color will be diluted for decades to come.” The Princeton University Gerrymandering Project determined the proposal “would drastically reduce the number of seats for the minority party in a way most New Jerseyans would consider unfair.”
Even the Center for American Progress, a progressive national Democratic policy group, opposed the constitutional amendment, calling it “a major step in the wrong direction … a process where politicians decide who they want to represent.” Gov. Murphy called it something out of “the proverbial backrooms. It’s completely unacceptable.”
This time, the effort is less shameless by degrees, but still contrary to the American ideals of voters having a voice in their government and institutions that don’t favor one set of partisans over another.
As we’ve said before, as a matter of principle, changes bearing on elections must be made on a bipartisan basis to ensure the inherent lust for power of political parties doesn’t undermine American democracy.
Democrats must also drop this latest rush to change the election process in their favor. There will be plenty of time to adjust to a delay in census data, if any.