Parties unveil plans for new legislative districts

By: - February 7, 2022 7:31 pm

The Trenton Statehouse (Getty Images)

Republican and Democratic delegations of the panel tasked with creating new boundaries for New Jersey’s 40 legislative districts unveiled their proposed maps Monday.

The Republican proposal makes sweeping changes to districts in Central Jersey, setting up contests between multiple Democratic senators and imperiling the re-elections of one Republican lawmaker in the upper chamber and the state’s only Asian senator. The Democrats’ map avoids big changes in favor of shoring up competitive districts.

The New Jersey Apportionment Commission gave each map a nickname — one is Turnpike, the other Parkway — in an effort to remove partisanship from public comment expected at its Wednesday meeting. But the maps’ boundaries make clear the Turnpike map was drawn by Democrats and the Parkway map by Republicans.

Both plans include a small list of competitive districts — seven for the Democratic map and 10 for the Republican map — but are expected to leave the state with fewer opportunity districts, or districts that give non-white residents significant sway over an election, than the state’s population of people of color demands.

Both maps include 17 districts where people of color account for a majority of the voting age population. That’s up from the current map’s 15, but critics say it is still too low for a state as diverse as New Jersey. A map proposed by a nonpartisan coalition led by the League of Women Voters last week included 20 majority-minority districts.

“All of the growth in the last 10 years in New Jersey has been among people of color. Both maps fail to address that and really meet that bar for racial equity,” said Henal Patel, director of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice’s democracy and justice program.

Both the Republican and Democratic maps include just one majority-Hispanic district and one majority-Black district. The Fair District Unity Map — the plan drafted by the coalition — had four majority Hispanic districts and three majority Black districts.

Patel also raised concerns about how each map divides communities of interest, redistricting parlance for neighborhoods or towns that have similar policy interests and benefit from being in one district.

“‘Parkway,’ for example, splits Neptune and Asbury Park, and there has been testimony and community interest maps as to why those two communities should be together,” she said. “‘Turnpike’ splits Camden and Pennsauken, and we’ve seen a ton of community testimony about why those are one community and should be kept together, and that’s a concern.”

The Democratic map splits more counties, dividing 19 counties 63 times. The Republican map splits 18 counties 55 times. Neither delegation sought to split Sussex or Cape May counties. The Democratic map divides Salem County, while the Republican map does not.

Both maps are likely to leave Democrats with more seats than the party’s statewide vote share. The Republican map is also slightly more compact than the Democratic proposal, owing largely to an expansive 9th District that would stretch from Seaside Heights to Buena Borough.

The maps released Monday are not final proposals and are expected to see revisions before the commission selects a final set of districts, a decision it must make before March 1.

Democratic map

The Democratic proposal would place Sens. Troy Singleton (D-Burlington) and Jean Stanfield (R-Burlington) into a single heavily Democratic legislative district and asks that Jersey City be split into three separate districts. Jersey City is split into two districts under the current map, something the Republican proposal keeps intact.

The proposal to split the state’s second largest city among three districts met with immediate opposition from Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop, who on Twitter said the move “would do a disservice to residents of the single most diverse city” in New Jersey and harm its immigrant communities.

“This makes little sense and should be changed,” he said.

The Dem map could also force primaries between Republican officeholders in the 24th, 25th, and 26th districts by moving Morris Plains, the hometown of Assemblyman Jay Webber (R-Morris) into a slightly more Democratic 25th district.

The map would place Assemblyman Christian Barranco (R-Morris) into a Sussex- and Warren County-based 24th District, where Republicans hold all three legislative seats. That could force a primary between Barranco and Assemblymen Parker Space (R-Sussex) and Hal Wirths (R-Sussex).

It would also stretch the 26th District further east. That, in turn, pushes the 39th District to New Jersey’s eastern border, encompassing more urban parts of Bergen County and giving Democrats a slight edge there.

GOP map

The Republican map features more dramatic changes in most areas of the state, with the most sweeping adjustments reserved for Central Jersey.

The map would make the 11th District more Republican, setting up a tough re-election race for Sen. Vin Gopal (D-Monmouth), the state’s only Asian senator. Gopal narrowly won re-election last year in a race that saw his two running mates lose their Assembly seats to Republicans.

It draws a considerably more Republican 16th District, moving Sen. Andrew Zwicker (D-Middlesex) into a very Democratic 17th District along with Sen. Linda Greenstein (D-Middlesex), who currently represents the 14th District.

The map would also set up a potential primary between Middlesex Sens. Bob Smith and Patrick Diegnan, Democrats who would both find themselves living in a heavily Democratic 18th District.

The 12th District, where Sen. Sam Thompson (R-Middlesex) has held a seat in the upper chamber since the last reapportionment, would become competitive after absorbing some Democratic towns.

The map also moves the hometowns of former Senate President Steve Sweeney and former Assemblyman John Burzichelli into the 5th District, potentially heading off any plans the former legislators had for re-election bids in 2023 — unless they opt to challenge Democratic incumbents there.

Advocates praised the public release of the maps — an unprecedented step in a process often criticized as opaque. A commission formed to draw new congressional districts did not release its proposed maps until the December meeting where a new map was chosen.

“We hope they take this feedback into consideration and make changes,” Patel said. “Because as I said, both maps have made decisions that are good, and the stuff that isn’t good can be corrected before it’s certified.”


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Nikita Biryukov
Nikita Biryukov

Nikita Biryukov most recently covered state government and politics for the New Jersey Globe. His tenure there included revelatory stories on marijuana legalization, voting reform and Rep. Jeff Van Drew's decamp to the Republican Party. Earlier, he worked as a freelancer for The Home News Tribune and The Press of Atlantic City.