A tie-breaking member of the state's redistricting commission has chosen a new congressional map that favors Republicans in next year's election, when one of New Jersey's 13 House seats will be eliminated.
In casting a deciding vote Friday for a district map, redistricting panel chairman John Farmer Jr. set up a potential re-election battle between two incumbent congressmen of opposite parties while giving an edge of 4 percentage points in voter registration to the GOP in the combined district. The new map also places at least two Republicans and one Democrat in safer districts.
"The map that I am to support today is in every measure an improvement over the previous map," Farmer said before the vote. "The map I am prepared to support today is legally sound. Its districts are compact, contiguous, respect communities of interest and honor our state's diversity."
Farmer, dean of Rutgers law school and a former attorney general under a GOP governor, let the commission know which map he would support by telephone early Friday, after four days of sequestered negotiations that ended Thursday.
Later Friday, during a commission meeting where a formal vote was taken, he rejected Democrats' arguments to postpone the vote to take more public testimony.
The outcome is different than in the spring, when legislative districts were redrawn to favor incumbents, a majority of whom were Democrats.
As with any redistricting, a legal challenge to the new map is possible.
New Jersey's congressional delegation is losing a seat because of population changes. The delegation, now represented by seven Democrats and six Republicans, will go from 13 to 12 members after November, and could wind up split 6-6.
A GOP map means an uphill fight for Democrat Steve Rothman, one of the first to endorse Barack Obama for president in 2008. His district is being combined with incumbent Scott Garrett's. Garrett is the 19th-most conservative member of Congress, according to the National Journal, while Rothman is the 83rd-most liberal.
Both have at least $1.5 million in their federal campaign accounts.
Democrats on the commission submitted a final map to Farmer on Thursday calling for the new district to be split evenly between Republican and Democratic voters. Republicans' proposal favored Garrett and the GOP.
All the districts change somewhat with the new map, though none as dramatically as the 5th, 8th and 9th, which have been combined into two districts.
Each district gained population, and the new districts will each contain 732,000 residents. Fourteen towns are split in the new map, far fewer than the 29 split in the existing map.
The districts are redrawn every 10 years to reflect population changes recorded in the census. New York, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts are also losing seats, while Florida and Texas are gaining representatives.