Testimony on Proposed Constitutional Amendment SCR-188 Redistricting
Public Hearing of NJ Senate State Government Committee
Thursday, January 7, 2016, 10am
Committee Room 7
By Maria Teresa Montilla, President
Latino Leadership Alliance of New Jersey (LLANJ)
Chairman, Minority Leader, Members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to address you on SCR-188, and thank you for your efforts to give structure to the upcoming redistricting process.
We oppose SCR-188 on the grounds that, it disenfranchises 75% of New Jersey’s registered voters, it further alienates New Jersey’s unaffiliated voters – which are the majority in the state-, and denies Latinos – 18% of New Jersey’s population – a chance at fair representation.
Despite their status as the largest minority group in the United States, Latinos are dramatically underrepresented in elected office. Although with a population of approximately 55 million in the United States, making up 17% of the nation’s population, there are only 28 Latinos (5%) out of the 535 members of Congress. This pattern of underrepresentation extends to the state level. In New Jersey, Latinos are 18%, but hold only 1.2% and 10% of state offices – 3 out of 40 senators and 8 out of 80 Assembly members are Latino.
This level of representation is, however a high point for Latinos; through most of 1980s Latino representation in Congress lingered in the single digits. The increase in Latino office-holding during the 1990s can be attributed in part to the passage and implementation of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), which facilitated the establishment of numerous majority-minority districts, in which minority voters constitute a majority of the relevant population, be it total population, voting-age population (VAP), or citizen voting-age population (CVAP).
The majority-minority districts remain the primary means through which Latino communities can elect their preferred candidates.
At the center of that court decision was fair representation of all communities, which is by definition the aim of the redistricting process every ten years, when it adjusts to reflect changes in population.2
Following the 2010 Census, there was much anticipation surrounding tremendous growth of the Latino population in the nation and changes it would cause to the political map of New Jersey.
The boundaries of the 13 Congressional districts and the 40 state Legislative districts almost certainly would be re-drawn to make them more equal in population. County freeholder districts in three counties and municipal wards in over 60 communities would be re-examined and revised for equal representation. In addition, the distribution of seats on 70 regional boards of education would have to be revised and, ultimately, the local election districts throughout the state would have to be re-drawn to conform to all of the other new boundary lines so that elections could be run efficiently.
This would not be.
There was much hoopla made by the Reapportionment Commission about communities testifying and its commitment to ensuring that the new legislative districts would reflect the changes in population and would conform to the principles of being contiguous, compact and not divide communities of interest; there was much discussion of ‘packing’ vs. ‘cracking‘3; there were even advocacy organizations like LLANJ and DANR submitting proposed maps and testifying before the commission in justification of such maps. Pretty much the same issues grappled with in 2001, when Democrats took heavily minority districts and distributed their mostly Democratic voters into whiter, more Republican districts, giving the party an electoral advantage. Republicans took Democrats to court, accusing them of diluting minority voters’ clout, but Democrats successfully argued that doing so would help elect more minorities to the Legislature.
In the end, Instead of redistricting being for the purpose of reflecting changes in population to guarantee compliance with “one person, one vote” requirements; It became a tool for political parties to maintain or obtain jurisdictional control. The parties settled on maps that protected their ‘controlled’ districts.
Latinos remain grossly under-represented.
Come 2020 Census, we will again be looking at redistricting, but we start ‘plotting’ to make it work in favor of specific partisan interests, now, four years in advance.
Regarding Constitutional Amendment (ACR-4), Assembly Majority Leader Louis Greenwald said: “New Jersey is a diverse state with continually changing demographics and we want to make sure this uniqueness is respected and represented. Ultimately, these changes will create a more fair and transparent process, one that is truly representative of the people and even more inclusive.”
The proposed amendment does not accomplish this.
The proposed amendment would increase the membership of the legislative Apportionment Commission and impose certain requirements on the process and composition of the districts established by the commission for the New Jersey Legislature.
This amendment: would increase the number of members of the commission from 10 to 13 members; instead of the chairs of the State Committees of the two major political parties each appointing five members to the commission, they would appoint only two, and the four legislative leaders from both major political parties would each appoint two members; the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of New Jersey would appoint the 13th member; and 25% (10) of districts will be competitive and 75% (30) non-competitive.
In other words, this amendment: would make redistricting occur based on averaged polling data from statewide elections, rather than by population changes recorded during the national census; would bring back with force, the politicians that were taken out of the Reapportionment Commission in 1966; would disenfranchise 75% of the voters by a pre-determination of the rule of one or the other party; and would force unaffiliated voters – which are the majority (2.6 million) in New Jersey, to choose a party or remain unrepresented.
Fortunately, the proposed amendment is being introduced at a time when the U.S. Supreme Court is considering a case4 that well might affect state legislative redistricting with a ruling that could kill the bill in the water.
Chances are the U.S. Supreme Court will continue to apply the total population method articulated in the 14th Amendment to state legislative redistricting and reject the Evenwell challenge. We hope.
In any event, redistricting suddenly has occupied center stage, and will be on the voters’ minds this year. If the outcome is more competitive legislative elections, and more opportunities for underrepresented communities, it may drive up voter interest and turnout. If it fails to reflect the fastest growing community in the nation, Latinos, with opportunities for fair representation, it will end up in court.
We ask that, in the spirit of reflecting population changes, fair representation, and equal opportunity for all, that the New Jersey Legislature abide by the basic – and honorable – criteria of redistricting:
- ▪ Create population equality between districts.
- ▪ Avoid splitting municipalities between two legislative districts (unless in cases like Newark and Jersey City that have to straddle two districts due to population size)
- ▪ Keep districts contiguous as required by New Jersey Constitution
- ▪ Keep districts as compact as possible, which is also a criteria set by the state Constitution.
- ▪ Preserve “communities of interest,” which is taken to mean everything from regional school districts to regional transportation communities to towns that shop in the same downtown or mall.
- ▪ Stay away from the priority of continuity of representation, which means doing what’s necessary to protect incumbent legislators.
- ▪ Increase as much as possible the number of competitive districts where both parties have a reasonable ability to win seats.
- Provide opportunities for minority representation, not breaking up any majority- minority districts now in existence.
And, as Monmouth University political scientist and pollster Patrick Murray put it in his testimony before the New Jersey Reapportionment Commission in 2011 “I speak to you as an independent voter, in competitive districts, we would make the difference. Your absolute rule is not to diminish the standard of competitiveness. A competitive map is a fairer map in every sense of the word.”
I urge you to consider a more proactive definition of competitiveness — one that creates the highest possible number of competitive legislative districts with just representation of New Jersey’s population.
Dr. Maria Teresa Montilla
President, Latino Leadership Alliance of New Jersey (LLANJ)