A Strange Version of Chess Called Apportionment With a Lot at Stake

Chess is not a game for dummies.  Imagine ten people in two competing teams playing on a huge board holding pieces for 40 games where pieces can even be moved from one game to another. The goal of each side within a few weeks from now is to win as many games as possible. However, an eleventh person can set rules, arbitrate between the teams, and even determine winners and losers in specific games. Also the courts have passed their own not always clear laws and may well issue new rulings to affect the outcome.  In some ways this game may be fairer than it is in other states, but whew… it is complicated, perilous, and fraught with impact that will affect legislative politics and the lives of New Jerseyans for at least the next ten years. more below

I would love to explain what is going in the minds of the competitors, provide a play-by-play, and handicap the outcome, but much of the process is secret, and I will have to leave that to more knowledgeable or clairvoyant people. As of now most legislators have no certainty as to what the boundaries will be for their district. Such is as true for candidates Jeff Gardner and Marie Corfield as it is for many long-time seat holders. As changes are made in districts, so are changes made that can affect election results, laws, budgets, the Supreme Court, regulations, safety net and much more.

Yesterday the last public hearing of the Apportionment Commission was held in Passaic where about 60 people testified. Discussions got into the weeds over advantages and disadvantages of possible changes within specific districts. The most outspoken advocates were Hispanics arguing for policies (both packing and unpacking) that take into account their underrepresentation in the legislature and their growing numbers among the populace. African Americans likewise sought changes that were fairer for their community of interest. Asians made particularly coherent, unified arguments. All three groups have strong cases for increased representation. That did not stop a Tea Party member, however, from saying, “I don’t care about race or religion.”

By now the commissioners appear to have clearer positions and asked more pointed questions. For example, Republican legislators testifying suggested that apportionment should be based more on actual voters as opposed to inhabitants. Commissioner Joseph Cryan invariably would ask if the legislator when taking a constituent phone call would inquire as to the political affiliation of the caller, and the answer was always no. It appears that the important principle of “one person one vote” has staying power.

By early next month the competing teams will have made their moves and 11th member Professor Alan Rosenthal will have arbitrated the results. A new map will be presented, but the results will still be subject to court intervention. I think the Democrats may have the upper hand, but in this game of chess where I am a confused pawn, I do not consider myself an expendable pawn as all of us have so much at stake.  

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