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Tiebreaking Vote Secures Victory for Democrat-Friendly District Map

December 22, 2021 by Dan McCue
Tiebreaking Vote Secures Victory for Democrat-Friendly District Map
John Wallace, Jr., Retired New Jersey Supreme Court Justice.

TRENTON, N.J. — With a tiebreaking vote by a former state Supreme Court justice, the New Jersey Congressional Redistricting Commission on Wednesday approved a new congressional district map seen as favoring the state’s Democrats.

In the end, former Supreme Court Justice John Wallace, Jr. said after the vote, it came down to his sense of fairness.

“I decided to vote for the Democratic map simply because the last redistricting map was drawn by the Republicans,” he said.

“Fairness dictates that Democrats had the opportunity to have their map used for this next redistricting cycle,” Wallace added.

New Jersey’s Congressional Redistricting Commission is composed of six Democratic appointees, six Republican appointees and a tiebreaker who is selected by the state Supreme Court.

Wallace was one of several Democratic recommendations to the court, which selected him after Chief Justice Stuart Rabner failed to get the two parties to agree on a tiebreaker.

On Wednesday morning, Wallace said both the Democratic and the Republican proposals met all of the state constitutional standards and complied with the Voting Rights Act.

The map Wallace picked bolsters the odds of reelection for three Democratic incumbents: Reps. Andy Kim, Josh Gottheimer and Mikie Sherrill, but creates a tougher path to victory for a fourth, Rep. Tom Malinowski.

Technically, the revised district lines place Kim in the same district as 21-term Republican Rep. Christopher Smith, but Smith is expected to move into the new 4th, which includes decidedly GOP-leaning municipalities he’s represented for decades.

As for Malinowski, his new district will lose some of the Democratic strongholds that bolstered him in the past, and will add more Republican areas. Still, his district is seen as far from a lost cause, merely more competitive.

In a joint statement, the Republicans on the redistricting panel said they were never given “a real chance” to win Wallace’s support.

“Our map was designed to empower New Jersey voters,” they said. “The final map is the antithesis of that. Our map left nearly 85% of the state’s voters in their current district, avoiding unnecessary voter confusion, and maintained five districts that gave voters the opportunity to meaningfully impact general election outcomes and elect a candidate from either party. That map was ignored.”

Doug Steinhardt, the Republicans’ redistricting chair, also blasted Sam Wang, a professor who leads the Princeton Gerrymandering Project.

“The moment hyper-partisan, Democrat Professor Sam Wang and his Princeton Gerrymandering Project were hired as advisers by the Democrat 13th member, Republicans and, more importantly, the millions of New Jerseyeans who wanted influence in the State’s federal elections, were unceremoniously boxed out of the decision-making process,” Steinhardt said in a statement.

New Jersey State Republican chairman Bob Hugin said he believes what played out Wednesday was retribution for the GOP making historic gains in the State House and almost winning this year’s gubernatorial race.

On the heels of those two events “the Democrats on the Redistricting Commission decided to circle the wagons in protecting their own,” Hugin said.

“Tiebreaker Wallace ignored basic facts and voted strictly on partisan lines. Instead of choosing a map with multiple, fairly drawn competitive districts, the commission through this nakedly partisan gerrymander has undermined the basic tenets of our representative democracy,” he said. 

“Over the last 10 years, Republicans in New Jersey normally win nearly 45% of the congressional vote in federal election years, and yet this partisan map was engineered by Democrat operatives to attempt to ensure Republicans only hold 25% of the seats in Congress in 2023 and beyond,” he continued.

“Make no mistake though, through their horrific policies, inflationary spending and failed leadership, congressional Democrats have ensured they are all vulnerable this November, and the New Jersey Republican Party will fight for every vote and every seat in Congress.”

Leroy Jones, Jr., New Jersey’s Democratic state chairman, disagreed, calling the new districts “fair” while saying they will “enhance minority representation and accurately reflect the partisan and demographic composition of our state.” 

“This map sets us on a path to victory in 2022 and our New Jersey Democratic State Committee will now shift our focus to working closely with each of our congressional campaigns to build capacity, connect with voters and bring out the support needed to win these seats and help Democrats hold the majority in the House of Representatives,” he continued. 

“I would like to thank all the members of our delegation and professional staff for their dedication to our party and our values, and also thank Justice Wallace for once again showing the fair and evenhanded decision making that has marked his entire career.”

Former Attorney General Eric Holder, Jr., chairman of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, also applauded the new map, saying “the work of the bipartisan New Jersey Congressional Redistricting Commission has led to a fair congressional map that is responsive to the people.”

“Today’s final congressional map accurately reflects the will of the voters and keeps communities of interest together as much as possible. This is a win for New Jerseyans,” he said.

Dan can be reached at dan@thewellnews.com and at https://twitter.com/DanMcCue.

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