After Backlash, Democrats in New Jersey Rethink Redistricting Plans

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After Backlash, Democrats in New Jersey Rethink Redistricting Plans

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Legislative leaders in New Jersey announced this weekend they would not move forward with a proposal to redraw legislative districts that would have essentially written gerrymandering into the State Constitution.

Stephen M. Sweeney, the Senate president, and Craig J. Coughlin, the Assembly speaker, both released statements on Saturday night announcing they would not put the proposal up for a vote on Monday, the final day of voting in the State Senate.

“This will give us the time and opportunity to review the input we have received from the public, our legislative colleagues and others to determine if any of these ideas would improve the proposal,” Mr. Sweeney said in the statement.

[Read more about the Democrats’ initial redistricting proposal.]

The proposal was opposed by numerous political factions: Republicans, progressives, nonpartisan pollsters, Gov. Philip D. Murphy, who is a Democrat, and Eric H. Holder Jr., the former attorney general under President Barack Obama who is the current leader of a national group combating gerrymandering.

In the final day of public hearings on the proposal last week, more than 100 progressive activists and academics testified against the bill in hearings before the Senate and Assembly committees; the authors of the bill were the lone supporters in each hearing.

But the opposition may not have been the only reason Mr. Sweeney and Mr. Coughlin canceled a vote, essentially killing the bill. Support was beginning to wane among members of their own caucus.

Two Democratic senators from Hudson County released statements last week opposing the bill, saying it could potentially dilute the power of the densely populated northeastern part of the state. Former Gov. Richard Codey, now a state senator, said he would vote against the bill. With three or four undecided votes left among the Democrats, the proposal might not have passed.

If it had passed in the Legislature, voters, through a ballot measure, would have decided whether to create an amendment to the New Jersey Constitution that would have given more power to legislative leaders in regards to redistricting.

The bill contains two key changes to how New Jersey would redraw its legislative districts in the next decade: First, it would increase the number of people on the bipartisan redistricting commission to 13, up from 11, and would allow lawmakers to nominate themselves to serve on the commission, a move that some saw as a way to strip power from Mr. Murphy.

More unpopular is a formula that would require that at least 25 percent of legislative districts be “competitive,” meaning that they must be within five percentage points of the statewide average based on the results for president, senator and governor in the past decade. That formula would likely result in a Democratic statewide average of 55 percent, according to a study by the Princeton Gerrymandering Project at Princeton University.

In effect, under the proposal, competitive legislative districts could still have Democratic majorities of as much as 60 percent.

Mr. Murphy had pledged to campaign against the measure had it made it onto the ballot.

“I thank the many residents and grass-roots organizations, on both sides of the aisle, who stood up to make their voices heard and whose activism resulted in the decision to pull this measure,” Mr. Murphy said in a statement. “We have serious challenges facing our state, and now we can get to them together without distraction.”

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