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New Jersey Redistricting: A Better Method

by Dean Searcy // Published April 11, 2011
NJ lines final

States around the country are plunging into the famed "political thicket" of redistricting. States having to move the fastest are those like New Jersey that this year will hold state legislative elections in their new plan. With winner-take-all rules, the impact of how lines are drawn is enormously point - that's why FairVote suggests giving more power to voters and less power to mapmakers through adoption of forms of proportional voting. New Jersey's state legislative districts provide a good example.

New Jersey's Apportionment Commission is a bipartisan body which is responsible for appointing the state's 40 legislative districts following a census every ten years. Each state legislative district elects one state senator and two state assembly members. After the usual  impasse between the five Republican and five Democratic commission members, the tie-breaking member of the commission (one selected with the goal of being independent and representing the public interest) went with the democratic plan. Below is the final appointment plan they agreed upon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With this new plan come many questions. 1. Has it created competitive districts for the State Assembly and the Senate? 2. Does it exhibit egregious cases of gerrymandering? 3. Does it give racial minorities fair opportunities to elect like-minded candidates?  The issue I focus on in this blog is the topic of the third question. Does this new appointment plan provide underrepresented racial minorities with sufficient opportunity to have a voice in their state legislature? Short Answer: no. Is there a way to solve this? Yes – and in a way that would create more opportunities for fairer representation for everyone.

According to NJ.com, (http://www.nj.com/news/index.ssf/2011/04/nj_minority_groups_say_theyre.html) increasing minority representation, in particular the state’s fast growing Hispanic population, has been a top issue for both political parties throughout the redistricting process. Hispanics are underrepresented in the Legislature, making up almost 18 percent of the state’s population but filling only 6 percent of legislative seats.”

It is quite accurate to attribute this discrepancy to a distinct lack of minority-majority districts within the new NJ appointment plan. With a winner-take-all system, a lack of minority-majority districts effectively muffles their voice. As you can see from the data below, there currently exists only **one** district that holds over 50% African American population and only **one** district which holds over 50% Hispanic – with these racial minorities’ share of the voter eligible population likely even being smaller. Although racial minorities often have won in New Jersey legislative districts that are not majority-minority, if the proposed plan is adopted, it is more than likely that racial minorities will continue to be underrepresented within their state legislature. How do we solve this? Read on.

 

District

Pop

African American

Hispanic

African American%

Hispanic %

 

 

 

 

 

 

1

222977

26088

36463

11.70%

16.35%

2

216352

39269

39201

18.15%

18.12%

3

221865

33355

22608

15.03%

10.19%

4

223987

40623

15092

18.14%

6.74%

5

224979

50738

45449

22.55%

20.20%

6

223974

22936

20596

10.24%

9.20%

7

221135

48976

13090

22.15%

5.92%

8

219098

21723

14762

9.91%

6.74%

9

225199

7610

14086

3.38%

6.25%

10

224399

6156

15991

2.74%

7.13%

11

223422

14685

19687

6.57%

8.81%

12

221923

6127

14253

2.76%

6.42%

13

224726

6127

14253

2.73%

6.34%

14

214950

17912

22393

8.33%

10.42%

15

214910

59725

36425

27.79%

16.95%

16

218540

10316

17537

4.72%

8.02%

17

221160

44188

49560

19.98%

22.41%

18

216606

14282

19657

6.59%

9.08%

19

224578

23516

68729

10.47%

30.60%

20

224100

65754

92236

29.34%

41.16%

21

214038

6163

17934

2.88%

8.38%

22

214709

53181

54246

24.77%

25.26%

23

216442

7774

20366

3.59%

9.41%

24

215286

4797

14344

2.23%

6.66%

25

214327

8312

33757

3.88%

15.75%

26

217666

4474

15492

2.06%

7.12%

27

218241

28058

16773

12.86%

7.69%

28

225387

124601

36233

55.28%

16.08%

29

224817

79583

92699

35.40%

41.23%

30

223760

9221

25162

4.12%

11.25%

31

220634

60255

51802

27.31%

23.48%

32

219979

9456

123234

4.30%

56.02%

33

219001

15191

101653

6.94%

46.42%

34

216209

92899

41290

42.97%

19.10%

35

218689

51606

105344

23.60%

48.17%

36

220923

11910

81561

5.39%

36.92%

37

217386

33112

43447

15.23%

19.99%

38

216336

7561

32698

3.50%

15.11%

39

215225

3511

15388

1.63%

7.15%

40

213959

4016

17004

1.88%

7.95%

 

FairVote has a simple, proven solution: forming multi-seat districts and implementing equitable method of proportional voting like the cumulative voting system once used in Illinois state legislative elections and choice voting [ LINK to choicevoting.com], another candidate-based system used in many cities and countries around the word.

We didn’t have the ability to draw our own New Jersey districts from scratch, so we decided to do something simple; combing two adjoining districts into a single “super-district”, voting proportionally to elect 4 assembly members collectively, then combining two adjoining assembly super district to form a four-seat super district for the state senate.

Our plan for the Assembly districts has a remarkable impact on fair racial representation because, with a proportional voting in a four-seat “super-district”, the threshold of representation (meaning the share of the vote necessary to be sure of winning a seat) is just over20% (as compared to just over 50% in a winner-take-all system). If we look at the data below, by combining district 4 and 5 under the commission’s new plan and implementing an equitable proportional system, our plan would put African Americans  in an excellent position to elect at least five assembly seats – likely more, given the state’s history – and Latinos in a position to elect at least six members. . Our plan would grant racial minorities significantly more opportunities to win and more opportunities to increase representation over the course of the decades as demography continues to change. 

Assembly

(Old Seats)

Pop

African American

Hispanic

African American %

Hispanic %

1

1,3

444842

59443

59071

13.36%

13.28%

2

2,9

441551

46879

53287

10.62%

12.07%

3

10,30

448159

15377

41153

3.43%

9.18%

4

11,13

448148

56586

33940

12.63%

7.57%

5

4,5

448966

91361

60541

20.35%

13.48%

6

6,7

445109

71912

33686

16.16%

7.57%

7

8,12

441021

27850

29015

6.31%

6.58%

8

14,15

429860

77637

58818

18.06%

13.68%

9

16,23

434982

18090

37903

4.16%

8.71%

10

21,25

428365

50351

51691

11.75%

12.07%

11

17,18

437766

58470

69217

13.36%

15.81%

12

19,22

439287

76697

122975

17.46%

27.99%

13

28,34

441596

217500

77523

49.25%

17.56%

14

20,27

442341

93812

109009

21.21%

24.64%

15

35,38

435025

59167

138042

13.60%

31.73%

16

36,37

438309

45022

125008

10.27%

28.52%

17

31,33

439635

75446

153455

17.16%

34.91%

18

29,32

444796

89039

215933

20.02%

48.55%

19

24,26

432952

118935

29836

27.47%

6.89%

20

39,40

429184

7527

32392

1.75%

7.55%

 

FairVote’s state senate proposal also gives racial minorities opportunities to elect like-minded State Senators after each “super-district” was then combined with another, adjacent “super-district” to form a  four-Senator multi-seat district. As we can see from the date below, this system (with a threshold of representation of 20%) would grant African Americans **three** clear opportunity districts and  Hispanics **four** opportunity districts.  See below

Senate

(Old Seats)

Pop

African Americans

Hispanic

African American %

Hispanic %

1

1,2,3,9

886393

106322

112358

11.99%

12.68%

2

10,11,13,30

896307

71963

75093

8.03%

8.38%

3

4,5,6,7

894075

163273

94227

18.26%

10.54%

4

8,12,14,15

870881

105487

87833

12.11%

10.09%

5

16,21,23,25

863347

68441

89594

7.93%

10.38%

6

17,18,19,22

877053

135167

192192

15.41%

21.91%

7

20,27,28,34

883937

311312

186532

35.22%

21.10%

8

35,36,37,38

873334

104189

263050

11.93%

30.12%

9

29,31,32,33

884431

164485

369388

18.60%

41.77%

10

24,26,39,40

862136

126462

62228

14.67%

7.22%

 

Here’s our updated map, showing both seats of “super districts.” And although we had no political data available in our maps, note that it’s almost certainly that every single district would elect representatives of both major parties, with an outside chance for independents and third parties. Such “shared representation” is far different from the likely outcome of the official plan, in which most districts will be swept by candidates of one party in classic winner-take-all fashion.