Kean Introduces Proposal to Increase Transparency, Public Participation in Legislative Redistricting and Allow Competitive Races in Every District
Offers as Alternative to Widely-Panned Proposal by Democrats that Protects Incumbents, Tilts Future Elections in Their Favor
Senate Republican Leader Tom Kean has introduced a constitutional amendment to reform New Jersey’s legislative redistricting process to make it more transparent, open to public involvement, and to remove political considerations from the formulation of legislative districts.
The proposal, SCR-110, includes widely acclaimed aspects of the redistricting processes used in several other states, including Iowa and California. It also incorporates non-partisan proposals from Wisconsin and Illinois.
Over the past two legislative cycles, Democrats have introduced widely-panned proposals that one highly regarded election expert testified, “entrenches a permanent Democratic majority,” and, “is a bald-faced attempt to pull the wool over voters’ eyes.”
Unlike Dems’ attempt to rig the system our new redistricting plan puts public in charge, makes all races competitive https://t.co/I0YCmIWuVc
— Senator Tom Kean (@tomkean) June 9, 2016
The initial version of the Democrats’ plan was removed from consideration at the end of the last legislative session in January following scathing criticism.
In response to a new version that was introduced last month by Senate Democrats, one editorial board said: “Democrats have resurrected the cynical redistricting plan they tried to ram through during the lame-duck portion of the last legislative session, and in doing so managed something we didn’t think was possible. They’ve made it even worse.”
“Under the guise of creating competitive elections, Democrats have proposed a redistricting plan that has been universally blasted as an attempt to rig the system to tilt elections in their favor,” said Kean. “In contrast, our proposal would put the public in charge of the redistricting process, prohibit political considerations when drawing district lines, and create real opportunities for both parties to win in every district if they have the best candidate.”
Kean’s plan follows the Iowa model to prohibit legislative districts from being drawn to favor a political party or incumbent legislator, or to dilute the voting strength of minorities.
It would prohibit the consideration of the addresses of incumbents, the political affiliations of voters, previous election results, or other demographic information when drawing district lines.
In Iowa, this procedure has resulted in a redistricting process that is efficient and independent of politics, and has led to legislative districts that are competitive and not gerrymandered.
Additionally, Kean’s initiative creates a new public process to select the 11th member of the Apportionment Commission who would serve as it’s official chair.
“I’ve proposed an open process to select the chair of the redistricting commission from qualified public applicants,” said Kean. “In California, this system resulted in 30,000 residents vying to serve on their redistricting commission in 2010. That open public process in California stands in stark contrast to New Jersey’s closed redistricting process that has been dominated by political insiders for too long.”
Kean’s proposal incorporates the qualification criteria employed by California for the public members of their redistricting commission to ensure that the 11th member of our commission is impartial and fair.
Any member of the general public could apply to be the 11th member. To be eligible, an applicant must be registered to vote in New Jersey and not affiliated with a political party for the prior ten years.
Neither applicants nor their family members in the prior ten years could have: served or run for federal or state elective or appointed office; worked for a political party or candidate’s campaign committee; served as a registered lobbyist or government affairs committee; served as paid congressional or legislative staff; or contributed more than $2,000 or more in any year to any congressional, state or local candidate. Further, those holding contracts with the Governor, a member of Congress, a member of the Legislature or a member of their immediate families would also be excluded.
The measure includes provisions for narrowing the candidates who apply to be the 11th member to produce a pool of seven final candidates for consideration by the Chief Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court.
Finally, Kean’s proposal includes the one reasonable provision suggested by legislative Democrats to improve transparency in the redistricting process and improve public participation, including public hearing requirements, the establishment of a website, and a process for the public to submit comments for consideration.
Kean concluded: “Rather than trying to fool voters with ‘an illusion‘ of competitive elections, our proposal provides New Jersey residents with real reforms that offer truly competitive elections in every legislative district.”