Republicans and Democrats have begun puzzling over how to redraw New Jersey's congressional districts to eliminate one of the state's 13 seats.
The congressional redistricting commission — made up of six Republicans, six Democrats and a tiebreaker chosen by the other 12 — faces a Jan. 17 deadline to come up with a new district map. That map will be in place for the November 2012 election, when New Jersey and eight other states will lose seats in the House.
"Obviously we'd like to get it done before (the deadline), but the reality is New Jersey is losing a seat in Congress so it's likely to be a protracted negotiation before any kind of map is adopted," said commission chairman John Farmer Jr., the tiebreaking 13th member.
Farmer was counsel to the tiebreaking member of the commission that drew a new state legislative map earlier this year.
Congressional and legislative districts are redrawn every 10 years to reflect population changes measured in the U.S. Census. New Jersey's population grew over the past 10 years, but not as robustly as the nation as a whole. As a result, New Jersey is one of 10 states that will lose at least one seat in Congress. Pennsylvania is also losing a seat; New York is losing two.
New Jersey is currently represented by seven Democrats and six Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives. The state's two senators, both Democrats, won't be affected by redistricting.
Both parties will argue for district lines that keep their party members in Congress.
"As far as I'm concerned nothing is predetermined," Farmer said. "The optimum outcome is a map that is fair and balances all the different interests in New Jersey. The population has shifted, so we have to take account of that."
The U.S. Constitution requires that districts contain an equal number of residents, Farmer said, and that's the principle that will drive the debate.
About a dozen Rutgers University law students have been selected to help with the process.
The public will also get a chance to comment. The first of three public hearings will be held Sept. 22, likely at Rutgers-Camden. The time hasn't been set. Two other hearings will be held in October.
The commission also is setting up a website — www.Njedistrictingcommission.org. The site should be live in a few days.