Countdown to 2010 Census – New Jersey Municipalities Have A Vested Interest

Municipal, County and State officials have been gearing up for big changes in the Garden State in 2010. Most are looking to the Governor’s Office in the Statehouse to be the catalyst, but nondescript temporary offices across the state will also have a say in the state’s political makeup in the coming years. These offices will be the hub of activity for the 2010 Census.

Starting with a mailing in March of 2010, Census forms will be delivered to every household in New Jersey. April 1, 2010 is National Census Day and in the months of May and June workers will be on the street collecting data from households which have yet to be counted. As the nation prepares for Christmas next year the Census Bureau will deliver the population numbers to the President.

Municipalities have a vested interest in seeing that every person residing in their borders are counted, because their votes in Trenton and Washington D.C. depend on it.

Article 1, Section 2, of the United States Constitution requires that a census be taken every 10 years for the purpose of apportioning the United States House of Representatives. U.S. Const. art. 1, § 2. In the 1964 case of Reynolds v. Sims, the United States Supreme Court determined that the general basis of apportionment should be “one person, one vote.” Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U.S. 533 (1964). This rule means that, generally, electoral districts must be equal in population according to the most recent census so that each person’s vote is equally weighted. These population numbers determine the members New Jersey sends to the House of Representatives. These numbers are collected house by house, block by block, municipality by municipality.

One of the biggest issues or complaints historically about redistricting is the potential for gerrymandering – or the practice of designing a district to create a strong advantage toward one political party, essentially creating a “safe district”. Federally the issue gave rise to a Pennsylvania case, Vieth v. Jubelirer 541 U.S. 267 (2004), which cemented the right of elected officials to choose their constituents however the state deems appropriate by its Constitution.

Every ten years, after the federal decennial census, New Jersey’s Senate and General Assembly districts are redrawn by an Apportionment Commission to maintain an equal population in each district.  Created under Article IV, Section III of the New Jersey State Constitution, the Commission consists of 10 members, five each appointed by the chairs of the state committees of the two major political parties.  Its mandate is to produce an apportionment plan by February 1 of the year following the federal decennial census or within one month of receipt of the census figures, whichever is later.  If the Commission fails to meet its deadline or declares that it will be unable to do so, the Chief Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court appoints an eleventh member.

In February 2011 we will know the impact of the “census summer” on towns and municipalities. Places like Hammonton and Folsom who find themselves in Ocean County dominated 9th District may remain or end up in the 2nd, 6th, or 8th. Clayton, Mantua, Winslow, Waterford, Buena, Buena Vista, Pine Hill, Shamong, Florence and others may face similar fates.

Certainly the political landscape of 2010 will be dominated by the changes within the Statehouse but quietly another wave will have lasting impact on South Jersey municipalities.

Link to the Current State Legislative Map

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