From Data to Diversity

The Demographics of New Jersey's Appointed Officials


Every day, thousands of citizens volunteer their time, expertise, and energy to serve on state boards, commissions, and authorities. These entities play important roles in our state government and have wide-ranging levels of responsibility and power, with some serving critical regulatory roles and others providing advice to the state’s elected officials on significant matters. Many of these boards are responsible for controlling millions of dollars in public funding and for making policy decisions that affect the lives of every New Jerseyan. Appointed boards set policy and practice on topics as wide-ranging as education, agriculture, land management, health care, housing, regulation and licensing of professions, consumer protection, the arts, and transportation, to name just a handful.

New Jersey’s governor has exceptional power when making state appointments. Not only does the governor appoint every Cabinet member, he or she is responsible for nearly all appointments to state boards, commissions, and authorities. Currently, the state has almost 500 active state boards, commissions, and authorities1. Because these boards play a critical role in the outcomes for citizens of the state, it is important to ensure that appointed governing bodies are reflective of the communities they serve. In New Jersey, many public leaders, researchers, activists, journalists, democracy experts, and others have long sought to measure and better understand the demographics of the state’s appointed leadership and craft solutions to address representation gaps.

Unfortunately, as noted in our earlier report on elected officials, demographic data collection is challenging. While some data can be sourced from publicly available information and datasets, a significant amount of demographic information – especially data about race, ethnicity, and gender identity or expression – is gathered through self-reporting. This type of data collection is typically labor-intensive and expensive when conducted independently of other established collection methods (for example, via government forms individuals are required to complete for other reasons). Moreover, it relies on voluntary participation and reporting of personal demographic identities by public figures via surveys and personal outreach. This is particularly challenging for appointed officials because, unlike elected officials, contact information for appointees is not typically publicly accessible. For all these reasons, in-depth demographic data about New Jersey’s appointed officials has not been available in a comprehensive manner.

In January 2022, P.L. 2021, c.414. S4004 – passed nearly unanimously by the state legislature and signed into law by the governor – directed the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) and the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling (ECPIP) at Rutgers University to design and execute a survey that would collect demographic background information of state appointed officials (excluding judges) and elected officeholders (excluding school boards). The explicit goal of the legislation was to build a database of the state’s elected and appointed officials by gender, race, and ethnicity. Implicit goals of the legislation were to gain better clarity about demographic representation of the state’s government leadership and to offer recommendations for practical interventions for diversifying New Jersey leaders whose decisions affect the lives of the state’s citizens. Additionally, the establishment of this database may also help spotlight for the general public the importance of elected and appointed leaders and inspire more citizens to serve their communities by seeking public leadership roles. While this project is specific to New Jersey, this report provides clarity on both the hurdles and opportunities for this type of data collection and representation assessment, which could be useful in other states exploring this type of study of their own appointed officials.

Lastly, appointed boards rely on the expertise and experiences of their volunteer members. Government should provide as much access to information about these boards and the opportunities to participate as possible. During the process of conducting this study we found that complete and current lists of active state boards and commissions and their members were difficult to access. From a transparency standpoint, lack of information and access creates another barrier to citizen participation in a democratic government. This report offers recommendations to increase transparency about and accountability for state appointed offices.

 1 There are three types of state appointments: approval appointments are made by the department commissioners and must be confirmed by the governor. Direct appointments are made directly by the governor and can be made at any time. Advise and consent appointments are made by the governor but must be confirmed by the state senate.