- Associated Press - Monday, December 17, 2018

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - Top Democrats in New Jersey’s Legislature scrapped a plan Monday to change the state constitution and potentially lock in their advantage in future elections.

Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin and Senate President Steve Sweeney canceled Monday’s vote on the proposed constitutional amendment, which if approved by voters next year, would have overhauled how New Jersey draws its 40 legislative districts.

The bill went down amid strong opposition from across the political spectrum, including Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy and GOP leaders as well as a host of groups, including the League of Women Voters and former Attorney General Eric Holder, who criticized the plan.

The harshest attacks cast the proposal as a raw power grab.

“The majority just wants to keep power for the rest of the century in New Jersey, but that is not how democracy works,” Republican Assembly Leader Jon Bramnick said in a statement.

But in a state with nearly a million more Democrats than Republicans, Democratic leaders brushed aside criticism that they sought to solidify their power. They control 54 of 80 seats in the Assembly and 25 of 40 seats in the Senate.

“The numbers are the numbers,” Senate President Steve Sweeney said. “There’s a million more Democrats than Republicans. How do you make a 50-50 map if you’re going to really reflect the population and what the state of New Jersey looks like?”

One way, suggested Helen Kioukis of the League of Women Voters of New Jersey, would be to include the state’s largest voting bloc: unaffiliated voters.

Under the legislators’ proposal, which would have required the approval of voters before taking effect, the commission drawing districts would grow to 13 from 10, with Democratic and Republican legislative leaders as well as state party chairmen selecting commissioners. Under the current constitution, only the party chairmen select members.

But the proposal also required the panel drawing districts to factor in the previous decade’s voter turnout in races for president, governor and senator. Those races favored Democrats.

Sweeney and Coughlin say they’ll take the input they got during public hearings on the proposal into account and could revisit a redistricting proposal.

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