By MIKE CATALINI, Associated Press
TRENTON, NJ (AP) – The New Jersey bipartisan commission charged with drawing congressional district boundaries for the next decade voted on Wednesday to approve a map proposed by Democrats.
The vote was 7-6, with Democrats in favor and Republicans against. Former Supreme Court Justice John Wallace, the 13th and decisive member of the commission, sided with the Democrats. He said the decision was due to the Republicans winning 10 years ago and that, to be fair, Democrats should win this time around.
The new card could result in a nine-to-three Democratic advantage in the state’s 12 House seats in the United States, according to the GOP, although Democrats have not conceded the split. Currently, Democrats hold 10 seats compared to two for the GOP. Before the Democrats took over in 2016 and 2018, the map was evenly split, with Democrats and Republicans each holding six seats.
Democratic Commission Chairman Janice Fuller said her party was “uncomfortably comfortable” with the outcome.
Republican Committee Chairman Doug Steinhardt said he was disappointed with the vote which he said was “the antithesis” to voter empowerment.
Among the changes reflected in the new map is a reshuffle of the typically competitive 3rd District which previously included Burlington and Ocean counties and is represented by Democratic Rep. Andy Kim. Ocean County was removed entirely from the district and replaced by parts of Mercer and Monmouth. Kim’s victory in 2018 was a Democratic GOP gain.
Another change is the addition of all of Warren County leaning to the GOP in 7th District, which is currently represented by Democrat Tom Malinowski. Malinowski won the 2018 seat for the Democrats, beating Republican Leonard Lance.
The 5th District, where Democrat Josh Gottheimer ousted a Republican candidate in 2016, no longer has towns in Warren County but has added a few in Bergen County, the largest county in the state where the Democrats have performed well recently.
Wallace said he used a handful of criteria to guide his decision, including that the boundaries should be geographically entire to the extent possible and that political subdivisions by city should be maintained. He also said that in order to comply with federal voting rights law, the map must have a sufficient number of “majority minority” districts – or places where non-white voters are in the majority – and that the districts competitive should be favored.
“In the end, I decided to vote for the Democratic card just because the last redistribution card was drawn by Republicans,” he said.
Steinhardt said after the meeting that Wallace was a 7th Democratic member instead of a true independent.
Wallace was chosen as the 13th member of the committee by the state Supreme Court under the constitution after the two parties failed to reach consensus on the decisive member. His name was proposed by the Democrats. The Republicans had submitted their own candidate for review.
Wednesday’s vote is the result of the federal census, which takes place every 10 years, and the requirement that seats in the House be allocated to states based on their population. New Jersey’s population has grown from 8.8 million people a decade ago to 9.3 million, an increase of almost 6%. The number of seats in the House, however, remained unchanged at 12.
The commission finished its work earlier. The state constitution gives New Jersey until Jan. 18 to certify its card.
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