New Jersey's 21st Legislative District

Senator Tom Kean, Jr.

Senator Tom Kean

EDITORIAL: Experts Agree – Constitutional Amendment to Redraw Legislative Map is Undemocratic

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The following editorial by Senate Republican Leader Tom Kean was published by on November 30, 2018:

A proposed amendment to the New Jersey Constitution that is designed to impart a permanent electoral advantage to incumbents and legislative candidates from the Democratic Party is being advanced rapidly through the New Jersey Legislature.

Democrats have held majorities in both houses of the Legislature since 2002. They currently hold 25 of 40 seats in the Senate, and 54 of 80 seats in the General Assembly.

They’ve maintained uninterrupted control for nearly two decades despite receiving fewer votes than Republicans in several elections, largely due to legislative maps that were designed to their advantage.

Those maps are redrawn every 10 years following the U.S. Census, generally giving each party the opportunity to make the case for the adoption of a new map that it believes is fair.

The proposed amendment, however, would constitutionally mandate that future legislative districts be drawn in a way that is mathematically guaranteed to cement and even grow the Democratic Party’s legislative majorities.

Our democratic society was built on the principle of equal representation, through which every citizen should have the opportunity in fair and truly competitive elections to choose the leaders who serve in their town halls, state capitals, and in Washington.

Their proposal upends that principle. Quite simply, it’s a blatant attempt to rig the electoral process in New Jersey forever. It’s partisan gerrymandering to the extreme. It’s the antithesis of democracy.

Those sentiments are not partisan hyperbole. Rather, they are the dire warnings expressed by a host of independent election experts, civil rights leaders, and academics from across the political spectrum who have been unified in their opposition to this extremely dangerous measure.

In fact, not a single witness testified in support of the proposed constitutional change when a legislative hearing was held several days ago. To the contrary, every single witness vehemently opposed the amendment.

  • Helen Kioukis of the League of Women Voters said, “voters should be choosing their politicians — not the other way around,” calling the proposal “undemocratic.”
  • Richard Smith of the New Jersey Chapter of the NAACP expressed concern that “the proposed constitutional amendment is an unacceptable step backwards for New Jersey” that “will virtually ensure the voting power of communities of color will be diluted for decades to come.”
  • Patrick Murray of the Monmouth University Polling Institute said the proposal “is Democrats being overly greedy for no good reason,” warning that it “just further erodes public trust in government for little actual gain.”
  • Brian Williams of the Princeton University Gerrymandering Project determined the amendment “would create an artificial, evenly distributed advantage for the majority party” that “would drastically reduce the number of seats for the minority party in a way most New Jerseyans would consider unfair.”
  • Ronald Chen of the Center for Law and Justice cautioned that “requiring that districts be drawn on order to favor one political party, or even both major political parties, is contrary to sound redistricting practice, and enables partisan gerrymandering.”
  • Ryan Haygood of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice said the amendment would “constitutionalize a redistricting process for New Jersey that elevates partisanship over people,” while impacting “the ability of communities of color to elect their candidates of choice.”
  • David Pringle, a former Democratic candidate for Congress, said, “It is very difficult to see this as anything but a naked power grab by Democrats,” adding, “this doesn’t help create faith in government; it creates more distrust.”

Those statements reflect a shared concern that the proposed amendment would disenfranchise millions of voters from across the political spectrum by limiting competition and prioritizing a partisan advantage for Democrats in the New Jersey Constitution over every other electoral concern or consideration.

In a democracy that holds true to its principles, citizens must have the power to hold individual legislators and political parties accountable at the polls.

Should the proposed constitutional amendment be enacted, however, New Jerseyans will be left with little more than an illusion of choice when they enter the voting booth in future legislative elections. The outcome will be assured before the first vote is cast.

The sponsors of the amendment should do the right thing. They should listen to the unanimous wisdom of the widely respected experts who oppose SCR-43/SCR-152. They should permanently table this undemocratic constitutional amendment.

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