It will be at least 10 more years before any significant changes can be made to the Atlantic County voting districts currently in place for freeholder elections.
Judge Dennis Braithwaite voted in favor of the Atlantic County Republicans’ redistricting map Tuesday afternoon, Nov. 29, giving the Republicans the 3-2 edge and maintaining the status quo, for the most part.
Every Census cycle brings with it talk of legislative redistricting, and this time around, the county Democrats submitted a map they said they felt lent itself to more competitive elections. Part of the plan proposed leaving Galloway Township in District 4, but replacing Brigantine with Egg Harbor City, moving Brigantine into a district with Atlantic City, and separating Atlantic City and Pleasantville.
However, Braithwaite stated in his decision Tuesday afternoon at the old county courthouse in May Landing he felt the Republicans’ map leaves districts more equal in population, more compact, would call for less voter disruption and fully respects communities of interest.
“The public comment (at the previous meeting on Nov. 18) was overwhelmingly in favor of (the Republican map),” Braithwaite said, before he cast the deciding vote in a 2-2 deadlock, with Republicans Keith Davis and Jorge Coombs on one side and Democrats Doug Brown and Paula Dunn on the other. “ … I believe the Republican map was more fair for the voters.”
All five were part of a special commission of appointed representatives selected by Davis to determine what the new map would look like following the 2010 Census, which showed changes in population in Districts 1, 2 and 3, but not in Districts 4 and 5.
“Our map was more reflective of the populations,” Davis said. “It’s more compact, more equal and more reflective of the communities, and the judge agreed. This is good for Atlantic County.”
District 4 remains untouched, with Galloway Township, Brigantine, Port Republic and Absecon remaining together; Atlantic City and Pleasantville will remain together in District 1; and Egg Harbor City will remain in District 5.
Engineer Kevin Zelinksy of Remington and Vernick was appointed to examine what type of disruption each map would pose to the county, among other factors.
He found the Democratic map would have an impact on 38.80 percent of the county, overall, while the Republican map would have an impact on 12.33 percent of the county, overall. These percentages represent the portion of the county that would be voting for new candidates for the first time.
Complete stats for each plan are documented in the two PDFs attached to this story.
“I think the people have taken in the process in a positive manner, worked amiably together, and I think the process worked quite well,” Brown said.
“Although I am not surprised by the decision, I am still disappointed,” Galloway Township Democratic Party Chair Michael Suleiman said. “Atlantic County needs fair and competitive election districts for freeholder, and I stand by the belief that the Republicans’ map gives the Republican party an inherent electoral advantage. I will continue to work hard to end one-party rule of the Atlantic County Freeholder Board and support candidates who put Atlantic County’s middle class and seniors first.”
His thoughts were also voiced on Thursday by Estell Manor resident Creed Progue, the only person from the public who spoke.
“In the first district, there’s not serious competition,” Progue said. “In other districts, there’s a major disparity. (The Democrats’ map) would make Pleasantville a large portion of another district. It would be their first chance in 30 years to have a freeholder.”
Davis pointed out that in 2008, President Barack Obama did well in areas thought to be under the stranglehold of the Republicans, and former New Jersey governors and Democrats Jim McGreevey and Jon Corzine have also fared well.
“A good candidate who advances the interests of the community can win in any district,” Davis said.
Suleiman reiterated that his party would work hard to pick up seats as it moves beyond this process.
"I like our prospects of picking up seats in 2012," Suleiman said, stating that freeholder seats in both District 2 and District 5 will be contested next year.