First and foremost I would like to thank the Redistricting Commission for holding several hearings on this very consequential process. Drawing district lines fairly is an awesome responsibility that requires fairness and transparency in order to preserve our democracy.
My name is Marci Bandelli and I am a 20-year resident of Westfield, New Jersey. I am a wife, mother, clinical social worker, business owner and the President of Westfield 20/20, an all-volunteer grassroots social advocacy group whose mission is to hold our elected officials accountable and empower citizens through education and awareness. Gerrymandering is antithetical to this very idea of accountability and empowerment.
I will not pretend to be an expert in redistricting because I am not. I am however an expert in human behavior, victimization, trauma, and marginalized populations. And with that, I would like to share an experience of my own voter disenfranchisement and disempowerment.
In February of 2013, 4 concerned citizens including myself, scheduled a meeting with our former Congressman in CD-7. We scheduled this meeting because 8 weeks earlier, an armed gunmen walked inside the Sandy Hook Elementary School and massacred 26 people in two minutes with a Bushmaster Assault Rifle. 20 of those souls were first graders. As a nation, we were traumatized. As a small group of fearful citizens, we needed answers. There were reports that a federal background check bill on all gun purchases would be voted on by the House of representatives imminently.
During the meeting with our former Congressman and his Chief of staff, we asked all the right questions respectfully. We were over prepared and at times emotional. We were there for 45 minutes. We left that meeting crushed, disempowered, and DISENFRANCHISED. Why? Because our former Congressman did not answer ANY of our questions. He was evasive, smug, and doodling on a yellow legal pad for 45 minutes. Why wouldn’t our representative answer any questions regarding policy and his upcoming vote on background checks? Surely, he cared about the victims of the tragedy and had an opinion about assault weapons getting into the wrong hands, right? So why wouldn’t he answer even the most basic question? It’s simple, he DIDN’T HAVE TO! You see the Congressional District -7 map in 2010 was drawn to favor the incumbent, my former Congressman. It didn’t matter what we thought, or asked, or pleaded. He knew year after year, he would continue to get elected based on his map. There was no accountability to his constituents. Our voice and our vote just didn’t matter. IT WAS A LOCK!!! He had the map and that’s all that mattered.
In 2018, CD-7 flipped. It flipped under the most sinister of circumstances; a newly elected president determined to eliminate the Affordable Care Act without a replacement, leaving thousands without healthcare coverage throughout the district. This was life or death for many residents in district 7. There was such a sense of desperation that even a seasoned therapist like me was SHOOK. In the blazing heat, rain, snow and sleet, constituents stood outside of our former congressman’s office advocating for themselves, just men and women, some in wheelchairs in the frigid cold. As constituents, we outorganized, outworked, outpaced, out volunteered with the added benefit of having an exceptional candidate. It was SUPERHUMAN, herculean. This was not fair, and IT WAS NOT NORMAL. We had no choice, the lines favored our former Congressman handily. That’s how gerrymandering effects the electorate.
Since 2018, CD-7 has become a more competitive district and the results of the last election prove it. But is it FAIR? Is it equitable? Right now, our district is predominately a white suburban wealthy district with 66% of residents being white, 14% Hispanic, 12% Asian, and 5% black. I would like to remind the commission that Hispanics were the largest ethnic group added to New Jersey’s population growth. As you can see, CD-7 is hardly an equitable map and does not meet the standard recommended by the League of Women Voters to effectively represent racial minorities.
According to the census, CD-7 is underpopulated by 24,000 residents. Our next-door neighbors in CD-10 are overpopulated by 42,474 which comprises of Union, Essex, and Morris counties. Rather than the commission twisting itself into a pretzel, CD-7 virtually can simply add the rest Union County which it presently shares with NJ10. Let’s make Union whole again by including it to CD-7.
And then there are our other neighbors on the other side in district
CD-12 who are presently split and are steps away from our Westfield community such as Scotch Plains and Fanwood.
There are indeed many ways to draw a fair and inclusive map without favoring a political party or candidate.
Healthy competitions are good for our democracy and assist us in holding our elected officials accountable to their constituents, not their political party.
Partisan gerrymandering has grave consequences. It contradicts the core principle of a representative government and instead of voters choosing their elected officials, gerrymandering ensures that elected officials choose their voters.
So again, I Thank you all for holding these hearings and honoring your commitment to draw fair maps for the residents of this great state. As you can see, the public is engaged and watching!