Representative Tom Malinowski, (D-NJ), speaks during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on September 16, 2020 in Washington, DC. The hearing is investigating the firing of State Department Inspector General Steve Linick. (Photo by Stefani Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images)
Democrats won a victory Wednesday when the New Jersey Redistricting Commission approved the party’s preferred new congressional map after the tiebreaker, former Supreme Court Justice John Wallace, backed the party’s map in what was otherwise a party-line vote.
The new map will shore up competitive North Jersey districts held by Reps. Mikie Sherrill (D-11) and Josh Gottheimer (D-05) by removing some conservative towns and adding more solidly Democratic ones; give Rep. Andy Kim (D-03) a friendlier district by carving portions of Ocean County out of it and extending it into Mercer County; and remove Republican Rep. Chris Smith’s Hamilton home from the 4th District, forcing him to move to seek re-election to avoid carpetbagger attacks.
Democrats appear to have made a sacrifice out of the 7th District, which Democratic Rep. Tom Malinowski has held since 2019. The new district will include more towns that historically vote Republican, making it significantly harder for the liberal firebrand to win re-election. The district was home to one of the nation’s most competitive congressional races in 2020, which Malinowski won by a whisker.
In statements, New Jersey Democratic State Committee Chair LeRoy Jones Jr. said the new map will “enhance minority representation and accurately reflect the partisan and demographic composition of our state,” while New Jersey Republican Party Chair Bob Hugin called it a “nakedly partisan gerrymander.”
Wallace praised the Democratic and Republican delegations for furnishing good maps, each of which included five districts with majorities of people of color and complied with the Voting Rights Act. He said the Democrats pulled slightly ahead on partisan fairness, but added that test wasn’t a factor in his final decision.
“In summary, both delegations aptly applied our standards to their map,” Wallace said. “In the end, I decided to vote for the Democratic map simply because the last redistricting map was drawn by the Republicans.”
The current congressional map was picked in 2011. It gave the state a 6-6 partisan split as recently as 2018, though Democrats hold a 10-2 majority today.
Former Republican state chair Doug Steinhardt, who chaired the GOP’s redistricting delegation, took umbrage at the former justice’s pick, calling Wallace the commission’s seventh Democratic member.
“It’s an interesting criteria to interject into a process, picking a winner simply because they lost last time,” he said. “This was always intended to be a competitive process. Every election is intended to be a competitive process, and I shudder to think we’re going to start selecting our candidates simply because they’re the ones that lost last time.”
The boundaries of the new map were first reported by the New Jersey Globe.
How the districts changed
The new map comes as Democrats in New Jersey and nationwide fear a rejection at the polls during next year’s midterm elections, which are historically bad for the party that controls the White House.
Sherrill’s district will shed some towns in Morris and Sussex counties and push a little farther into heavily Democratic Essex County, picking up towns like Maplewood, South Orange, and Belleville.
Warren County was removed from Gottheimer’s district, which will also lose some Sussex towns in favor of more Democratic Bergen County municipalities, including Englewood and Englewood Cliffs, which are currently in the Ninth District, represented by Democratic Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr.
Malinowski’s new district will include all of Warren County and added towns in Sussex.
“Obviously, there were more difficult decisions made in the 7th Congressional District than we wanted to,” said Janice Fuller, who chaired the commission’s Democratic delegation. “But Congressman Malinowksi is a good representative. I think we saw robust participation from the public talking about how good of a representative he has been in Congress and the desire to keep him there.”
The state’s two Republican-held districts — the 2nd, represented by Rep. Jeff Van Drew, and the 4th, by Smith — won’t see major shifts in partisan balance.
Steinhardt said the new map would likely end with Democrats holding a 9-3 majority in the state’s House delegation. Republicans, he said, should be better represented.
There are just over 1.5 million registered Republicans in the state, compared to nearly 2.6 million Democrats and 2.4 million unaffiliated voters.
The redistricting committee faced some criticism ahead of Wednesday’s vote.
Though it held 10 meetings this year in a bid to head off criticism over a lack of transparency it faced when it drew a new map in 2011, the commission saw renewed criticism over an opaque process after it moved Wednesday to vote on maps that had never been seen by the public.
“States like South Carolina and Georgia are releasing maps before they’re voted on, so why do the people of New Jersey not deserve as much as all of these other people in this country are getting for something that’s the core of our democracy,” said Henal Patel, director of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice’s Democracy and Justice Program.
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