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Assembly Democrat-Sponsored Plan to Protect the Fairness & Accuracy of Legislative Redistricting from COVID-19 Delays Approved by NJ Voters

To protect the fairness and accuracy of the census count during an unprecedented pandemic, Ballot Question #3, which asked to allow the State to prepare for a temporary extension of the redistricting process if the census is delayed, was given voter approval on Election Day.

The approved plan (formerly bill ACR-188) offered by Assembly members John McKeon, Angelica Jimenez, Benjie Wimberly, Yvonne Lopez, Britnee Timberlake and Tom Giblin will allow a constitutional amendment to reschedule legislative redistricting to 2023 if the census data is not available within the same time frame as it is customarily received every decade. The current legislative district maps will be kept in place for an additional two-year term until the 2023 elections.

“Now that the people of New Jersey have spoken, the need for an accurate Census count is enshrined in our Constitution,” said Assemblyman McKeon (D-Essex, Morris). We now must stand together in a bipartisan manner to demand a complete and accurate count to make certain the new districts when drawn will accurately reflect our population.  An accurate Census will ensure we don’t lose congressional representation and hundreds of millions in federal aid over the next decade. In the future, I’m committed to working collaboratively to reform the entirety of the redistricting process in our state.”

“This amendment will protect against the very real possibility that we would not be able to meet our constitutional responsibility to adopt a new legislative map in time,” said Assemblywoman Jimenez (D-Bergen, Hudson). “The amendment will also protect communities of color and other hard-to-count populations that stand to make significant gains due to increases in population over the last decade.”

Under the voter-approved amendment, the commission would delay the creation of the new districts if the Governor receives the federal census data after February 15, 2021. The commission would then adopt the new districts after the November general election, but no later than March 1, 2022.

“Obtaining an accurate census count is essential, and the Census Bureau must do everything it can to ensure hard-to-count populations are recorded accurately, regardless of how long that may take,” said Assemblyman Wimberly (D-Bergen, Passaic). “Accurate data is critical. Census data is used to create new districts for federal, state, and many local elections to ensure citizens have equal representation in their various levels of government.”

“A lot is at stake in the 2020 census and we cannot afford for the process to be rushed. Hispanic communities in New Jersey, who have historically gone undercounted, stand to make momentous gains if we do this right,” said Assemblywoman Lopez (D-Middlesex). “As a state with an early election timeline, that meant delaying the process of creating new legislative districts, and, yesterday, the voters approved.”

The New Jersey Constitution requires an Apportionment Commission to create new legislative districts every ten years after the federal census is completed, but if the data is delayed, the new districts can’t be created in time for the November elections.

“Our communities of color must be protected by census accuracy,” said Assemblywoman Timberlake (D-Essex, Passaic). “We must ensure the Census Bureau has the time necessary to complete as accurate a count as possible, regardless of the status of the COVID-19 pandemic and free of political pressure from states to submit data before it is ready.”

“New Jersey requires census data to be submitted in a timely manner in order to create new districts, or election deadlines are missed,” said Assemblyman Giblin (D-Essex, Passaic). “Even minor delays can create significant problems for our state having timely elections, but the Census Bureau is currently requesting at least a three-month delay and possibly longer to submit data to states. We are better prepared now to handle any delay in Census data.”