The Montclair Branch NAACP plans to respond to the state’s requirement designed to ensure that each legislative district throughout New Jersey is properly represented through an aggressive voter mobilization, registration, and education effort.
Tom Reynolds, president of the Montclair Branch NAACP, stated that “the average resident in Montclair and throughout the State of New Jersey for that matter, does not know that the State has a duty to make sure that all residents, particularly minorities, are properly represented, and it is our duty to promote awareness.”
Unless residents are mobilized, not only will their voices not be heard but the whole political process is of little benefit to them, he said.
To assist with the effort, the Montclair unit recently met with James Gee of the New Jersey Commission on Redistricting. Gee said that, every 10 years after the census is completed, efforts must be taken by the state legislature to ensure that each legislative district has the appropriate number of representatives.
Ten commissioners are appointed to carry out this requirement, five appointed by the Speaker of the Assembly and five appointed by the Senate Majority Leader with the express duty to review the census data and present a legislative map that properly demonstrates how population growth justifies the need for increased representation or how the lack of growth may justify the need to make adjustments.
Either way, however, minorities must be properly represented.
These commissioners have 30 days to come up with a redistricting plan. Should that not happen within the designated time frame, or if the “reapportionment” is to the disadvantage of minority voters, then an eleventh appointment is made in order to ensure a more fair and just distribution of legislative power.
Gee pointed out that a series of public hearings have already taken place in Toms River, Jersey City, and Newark, giving residents an opportunity to give public testimony about concerns they may have about potentially losing a legislative seat.
Of critical importance to the redistricting discussion is the idea of “packing” and “cracking.” Packing and cracking are both common methods of gerrymandering used to minimize the impact of a voting bloc. Packing concentrates members of a group into a single district. In places where minorities may represent a significant percentage of the voting bloc within a given district, the legislative power that typically correlates with that percentage may be seriously weakened by moving residents (on the legislative map) from one legislative district to another and attempting to use population as a justification for doing so.
Not only does this weaken the vote but it also presents the threat of losing minority representation in the state house. Similarly, cracking is an effort to split a bloc of voters among multiple districts which diminishes the impact of a collective vote and prevents them from emerging as a majority. Residents should be made aware of these tactics, explained Gee, and the impact that it has on voter turnout, particularly in districts where minorities make up a significant percentage of the legislative district.
James Harris of the New Jersey State Conference of NAACP branches said that “this process is in clear violation of the 1964 Voting Rights Act” and will certainly be challenged by the NAACP in the event this becomes the case. He pointed out that it is against the law to move residents from one district to another when there is a risk of losing the existing minority voice in the state legislature.
A case in point, Harris said, is the data collected in the 2010 census showing a significant increase in the Hispanic population—17% throughout the state. This would mean that it would be critical that a Latino voice be present in those areas where this growth has been demonstrated. Without the proper representation, it would be foolish to think that the real needs and concerns of those communities would be met.
The NAACP plans to continue to promote awareness about redistricting to demonstrate the importance of equal representation for all residents in New Jersey. The group encourages residents to attend the public hearings but most importantly, register to vote and make sure you go out to the polls on Election Day.
This will become more and more important as we approach the election in 2012. The group also encourages individuals of good will to join the Montclair Branch NAACP Political Action Committee to help keep voters informed.
For more information on this effort, please contact Christine Roz Samuels at Roz@montclairnaacp.org.