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A Competitive Map

Cross-posted at PolitickerNJ

What makes a legislative map competitive? Definitions vary, but in my view it includes the following characteristics: either party has a chance of winning a majority and the number of districts that could conceivably change hands in each election is maximized. This is not to say that legislative control would, or even should, change hands every two years – just that the possibility exists. Such a map would keep both parties on their toes, increase media coverage of legislative elections, and hopefully lead to greater voter participation.

I define legislative competitiveness rather simply as the raw vote difference between the Democratic and Republican candidates for legislature. For the map I propose here, I utilized a two-cycle (2009 and 2007) average in order to include both Assembly and Senate races as well as turnout in gubernatorial and off-year elections.

Graph displays the NJ redistricting process outcome using a competitive election approachThis is a fairly straightforward metric. I purposely didn’t include results for governor or federal offices as the vote choice dynamic is different. Indeed, the 2009 election witnessed a decent amount of ticket splitting between Governor and Assembly. Since my objective is to heighten legislative competitiveness, it makes sense to rely on legislative results.

This approach is not without limitations. It does not take into account incumbency. Some current districts may appear to be more competitive because a particular incumbent is able to overcome voters’ partisan preferences (LD14 and LD7 come to mind).

Another limitation is that past voting patterns can mask depressed turnout among one party’s voters when the other party “owns” that district. One potential adjustment to this competitiveness metric would be to merge vote data with partisan registration in each town. However, I’m inclined to think that it would not change the decisions behind the map proposed here.

Basically, I defined district competitiveness in the following way: solidly safe partisan districts have a two-cycle victory margin of 10,000 votes or more; likely safe partisan districts average 2,500 to 10,000 vote margins; leaning partisan districts average between 1,000 and 2,500 vote victories; and competitive districts have average victory margins under 1,000 votes.

In the current 2001 map, 26 districts are solidly safe bets (11 Democrat and 15 Republican) and another 13 have very likely partisan outcomes (12 Democrat and 1 Republican). There are no leaning districts and only one competitive district, which is very nearly Leaning Democrat.

I used past legislative voting behavior (disaggregated to the municipal level) to assign hypothetical margins for the districts in the proposed “competitive” map. Based on this metric, the proposed map has only 17 solid districts (7 D and 10 R) and 10 likely districts (8 D and 2 R), with another 2 leaning Democratic.

That leaves 11 districts with the potential to be truly competitive. (On the map, they are numbered 1, 6, 8, 14, 21, 22, 27, 34, 37, 39, and 40).

[Click the following link for: (1) graphic version of the proposed map]

For the record, the districts in this proposed map are contiguous and meet the federal equal population guidelines. The largest district has 228,224 (LD36) residents and the smallest has 211,281 (LD38). The difference between these two is 7.7% of the ideal district size of 219,797 – below the 10% federal limit and similar to the 2001 map when it was first drawn. As to compactness, that is in the eye of the beholder – or the judge who will ultimately review the lawsuit that arises from any map. But it certainly doesn’t look any more contorted than the current map, and in some areas may even be an improvement.

Now, on to the consequences of this map. In order to draw more competitive districts, smaller districts skew Republican while the larger ones tend to be Democratic or competitive. There is a pretty even partisan distribution among districts with 216,000 to 223,000 residents.

These skews are unavoidable when drawing a competitive map in a state where Democrats hold a 33% to 20% partisan voter registration advantage. (The remaining voters are unaffiliated.) That also means Republicans are at a disadvantage in terms of winning control of the legislature, even with a competitive map.

The GOP needs to win nine of the 13 competitive or leaning districts in order to claim a majority in either chamber. Democrats on the other hand, only need to hold on to their two leaning districts and take just four competitive districts to retain legislative control.

Given the state’s voting trends in all elections, it is probably the best Republicans can hope for and fair to both parties. It may also be the fairest map for the state’s more than two million unaffiliated voters, who would have a real stake in the outcomes of one-quarter to one-third of the state’s legislative races.

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Other notes on the map.

I did not use minority representation as a factor in drawing this map, but I am aware of the consequences.

The proposed map retains one Hispanic majority district. The number of districts with a 40% to 49% Hispanic population would increase from three to four, while the number between 30% and 39% Hispanic would decrease from three to two. A total of 13 districts would have a Hispanic population of 20% or greater, which is identical to the number in the current map.

Black representation would shift in a few areas in the proposed map. There would continue to be one African-American majority district (LD28), but with a larger majority than it currently has. This can be ameliorated by drawing the Newark dividing line between districts 28 and 29 a little more creatively than I did. LD20, centered on Elizabeth, would also see an increase in black population, while the redrawn districts 5, 7, 17, 22, 31, and 35 would have similar proportions of black residents as in the current map. The Trenton district (LD14 in the proposed map) would also maintain similar black representation. However, the need to pair Democratic towns with Republican towns to make more competitive districts would totally change the face of two districts – 27 and 34.

The number of districts with an Asian population over 20% would decrease by one, to four in the proposed map.

Strange bedfellows. There could be some intriguing match-ups brought about by this new map. From south to north:

Republican Assemblyman Domenick DeCicco has all but announced his candidacy for Senate. But rather than take on Fred Madden in the 4th, the proposed map has him facing off against Jeff Van Drew in a very competitive LD1. Madden ends up sharing LD4 with fellow Democrat Senate President Steve Sweeney. Madden has been rumored to be considering retirement, so this primary match-up may not be a deal-breaker.

The newly competitive LD6 pits incumbents Jim Beach (D) and Dawn Addiego (R) for the Senate seat and Budget Committee chairman Lou Greenwald (D) and Scott Rudder (R) for the Assembly. This means that competitive district LD8 has only two incumbents for the six available seats – Democrat Pamela Lampitt and Republican Patrick Delany.

District 13 may be a hard sell for Republicans, as it includes two high-profile Senate incumbents – Joe Kyrillos and Jen Beck. However, since districts 11, 12 and 13 are all GOP strongholds, a few municipality swaps can ensconce the two in separate districts without affecting the overall competitiveness of the map.

An even more competitive LD14, which includes Trenton and parts of Burlington County, would involve a showdown between Joe Malone on the Republican side and Wayne DeAngelo and Dan Benson for the Democrats. With no Senate incumbents here, the bigger question is who would try to move into the upper chamber. This also means that Shirley Turner and newly-minted Senator Linda Greenstein would have to draw straws in LD15.

LD40, which has been relocated to Middlesex County in the proposed map and should be quite competitive, has only two incumbents – state Democratic chairman John Wisniewski and county Republican chairman Sam Thompson.

Democrat leaning LD18 presents what may be marquee match-ups of this map. It pits Senate Majority Leader Barbara Buono against Minority Leader Tom Kean. The undercard would include Peter Barnes (D), Linda Stender (D), and Jon Bramnick (R).

One also wonders whether the Union or Middlesex Democratic organizations would win out in the proposed LD19, which would be home to both Joe Vitale and Nick Scutari.

LD21, which is now a toss-up district, has only two incumbents – Assembly Majority Leader Joe Cryan (D) and Nancy Munoz (R). LD22 is also a competitive district and includes Democratic incumbents from three different districts, Senator Bob Smith and Assemblymen Patrick Diegnan and Jerry Green.

The proposed LD25 is teeming with Republican incumbents. Tony Bucco and Joe Pennacchio on the Senate side, and Minority Leader Alex DeCroce, Jay Webber, and Anthony Bucco (the younger) in the Assembly.

LD26 has only two incumbents – John Girgenti and Nellie Pou, who are transplants from the current 35th. The only problem for these two Democrats is they would find themselves in a heavily Republican district.

LD27 would become a competitive, even slightly Republican, district defended by former Governor and Senate President Dick Codey. The Assembly face-off could include John McKeon (D) and Michael Patrick Carroll (R), unless the latter’s judicial nomination is confirmed.

In the Newark districts, Ron Rice (LD28) and Teresa Ruiz (LD29) would still be in pole position for the two Senate seats. However, Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver and Mila Jasey would find themselves in LD28 while Ralph Caputo and Albert Coutinho would land together in LD29. The big problem for Essex Democrats (as well as those concerned with the number of female African-American legislators) is that Cleopatra Tucker and Grace Spencer would also share these districts (either 28 or 29 depending on how the Newark dividing line is drawn).

LD34 would be a competitive district pitting Nia Gill (D) against Kevin O’Toole (R) for the Senate seat, and Tom Giblin (D) and Kevin Ryan (D) against Scott Rumana (R) for the Assembly.

LD37 would also be competitive. Loretta Weinberg (D) is the lone Senate incumbent, while Connie Wagner (D) would battle it out with Bob Schroeder (R) and David Russo (R) for the two Assembly seats.

The far northeast corner of the state (LD39), should also be competitive in the proposed map. Gerry Cardinale (R) is the lone Senate incumbent, while the Democratic trio of Gordon Johnson, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, and Joan Voss would have to be whittled down to two for a face-off against Charlotte Vandervalk and a Republican to be named later.

Finally, the major shifts in these northern districts leaves two Democratic districts with only one incumbent each – Assemblyman Gary Schaer in LD36 and Senator Paul Sarlo in LD38.