New Jersey investigative panel finds no manipulation in 2021 congressional redistricting

By: - September 6, 2023 12:08 pm

The State Commission of Investigation said there is "no merit" to GOP claims of data manipulation when House districts were last redrawn.

The State Commission of Investigation has closed its probe into New Jersey’s most recent congressional redistricting and found no evidence that Princeton University officials improperly helped engineer a map favorable to Democrats.

The Princeton Gerrymandering Project and its leader, Samuel Wang, was accused in the press of manipulating data to create a pro-Democratic Party map when aiding redistricting tiebreaker John Wallace in late 2021 and early 2022.

But in a report released Wednesday, the commission said after reviewing hundreds of pages of documentary evidence and receiving sworn testimony from more than a dozen individuals involved in the redistricting process, it found “no merit” to the claims.

“The SCI uncovered no evidence to support the allegations of improper data manipulation during the 2021 New Jersey congressional redistricting process,” the report says.

The commission also did not identify any partisan bias in the report the Princeton Gerrymandering Project compiled for the redistricting tiebreaker, a former New Jersey Supreme Court justice.

At the time the new map was drawn — a process that occurs every decade when new census figures are released — Democrats held 10 of the state’s 12 congressional districts. The new map’s boundaries made one of those 10 districts more Republican, while three key districts became more Democratic.

Republicans sued to overturn the new map in 2022, calling it a gerrymander, but the case was dismissed. That November, Republicans flipped one seat, the one now held by Rep. Tom Kean Jr.

The commission’s report says there is room for improvement in the redistricting process, saying it lacks clear standards for the creation of voting districts, needs rules surrounding consultants, and fails to clearly outline the powers of the commission’s chair.

A 13-member body redraws New Jersey’s congressional map once each decade. Both major parties each put up six members, and the Supreme Court picks a tiebreaker if one is needed. Wallace in 2021 chose the map created by Democrats.

The commission found that, despite standards adopted by the 2021 Redistricting Commission, there are no clear standards for such panels in state law.

The commission recommended lawmakers codify the tiebreaker’s authority to clearly establish the scope and limits of their power. They said the two partisan delegations should be required to share their maps with each other, reasoning that such a mandate would help parties reach a compromise map.

Lawmakers should also codify redistricting standards to create consistency for mapmakers in future years and create rules for the hiring of consultants, the commission said.

“Without a formal written selection and management process for outside consultants, PGP’s work and that of future consultants are subject to greater challenges for trustworthiness and impartiality,” the commission said in its report.

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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.