Redistricting Prisoners
Counting Prisoners for Redistricting

 

"WINK-WINK-WINK Silver-Cuomo-Skelos" -Bill Samuels on March 15, 2012 after Redistricting Deal

“There are many ways to hijack political power. One of them is to draw state or city legislative districts around large prisons — and pretend that the inmates are legitimate constituents.”—Brent Staples, New York Times Editorial Board

Authored by

Article III, Section 4 of the State Constitution provides that the federal census be used for State Senate and Assembly redistricting.  This has meant that persons in prison, who may not vote, were counted where they were incarcerated. Since most state prisons are in upstate rural areas, and these areas have traditionally been represented by Republicans, this practice advantaged upstate and Republicans in redistricting. In 2010, a Democrat controlled state legislature provided - as part of the budget - that prisoners, most of whom  are from New York City or other urban places in New York State, be counted at their home addresses for determining populations of Senate and Assembly districts.  

Liitle v. LATFOR was a lawsuit brought by several Senate Republicans to challenge the New York Law passed in 2010 to count incarcerated persons in their home districts for redistricting and reapportionment on Federal and State Constitutional grounds.  They argue that because the federal census counts prisoners where they are incarcerated, counting them at their home residence violates the state constitution.   They also argued that including this policy in the budget is unconstitutional because it has no fiscal impact. State Supreme Court Justice Eugene Devine in Albany County upheld the law in a decision announced on December 2, 2011. The decision was not appealed.

 

 

 

In the 2000 redistricting, 43,740 prisoners were counted for redistricting the New York Senate where they are incarcerated U=upstate instead of in New York City where they lived.

The effect of this is that the upstate, and mostly rural, districts population and demographic statistics were distorted by this prisoner population.  The lower the population of the area where prisons are located, the more exaggerated these distortions become.  For instance, in 173 counties nationwide more than ½ of the African-American population counted in the census are prisoners. The distortions in the demographic and population data lead to an unequal apportionment that runs contrary to the very purpose of redistricting.

The New York Times noted in an opinion editorial entitled "Gerrymandering, Pure and Corrupt" that:

"SENATE DISTRICT 45 Each district needs about the same population, give or take 10 percent (about 300,000 for a Senate district and 124,000 for an Assembly district). But partisan mapmakers have always found ways to fiddle with the numbers. The upstate district for Senator Elizabeth Little, a Republican, is a perfect example. Mrs. Little’s district has 299,600 people, but about 13,000 of those are prisoners from 12 prisons in her district. These prisoners do not vote, and they should be counted where they live, which is probably not in her district. But the prisoner scam is one way to keep upstate districts intact and Republican, as the area steadily loses population."

An overlooked aspect of this matter is that even if they are counted as residing at their last home address before incarceration for the purposes of districting, most prisoners will still not vote. In New York State, anyone convicted of a felony and sentenced to time behind bars loses their right to vote while they're incarcerated, and for the duration of their parole. One effect of the change would thus be to depress already low turnout statistics in these districts even further.

A constitutional amendment on redistricting could determine an equitable way to distribute the populations of incarcerated people.

The issue of prisoners and redistricting is a contentious one.  Prisoners are counted by the census in the prison, and historically, this data has been used, unaltered, for the purposes of redistricting.  In 2010, a bill was passed that redistributes the prisoner population to their place of origin, rather than counting them in their place of incarceration. A constitutional amendment on redistricting could specify an equitable way distribute the populations of incarcerated people.

The Governor's proposed constitutional amendment to create a redistricting commission is silent on the prisoner reallocation issue, possibly imperiling future use of the 2010 law if voters approve the 2014 commission amendment.

 

NEWS BEHIND THE CONSTITUTION
Thomson Reuters
Jessica Dye
Tuesday, February 14, 2012
 NEW YORK, Feb 14 (Reuters) - The New York Court of Appeals on Tuesday declined to hear a direct appeal of a ruling upholding the constitutionality of a state law requiring prison inmates to be counted as residents of their hometown for the purpose...
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Daily News
Matt Surte
Friday, January 13, 2012
Inmates have traditionally been included in county population totals when political districts are determined. But state Senate and Republican leaders reached a deal in December to count 46,043 prisoners in their home neighborhoods instead.
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City & State
Michael Keller
Tuesday, January 10, 2012
Last week saw two significant events in the ongoing battle to redraw New York State’s electoral map. In the first, the legislature’s redistricting committee formally subtracted the state’s 60,000-plus prisoners from the population count...
This article is relevant both because of the implications of how we redistribute the count of prisoners within New York State, and if that process should be outlined in the Constitution, but also because of the different interpretations of the Constitution regarding the size of the State Senate itself.
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The Journal News: Politics on the Hudson
Joseph Spector
Friday, November 18, 2011
“About 20,000 just aren’t getting counted at all,” McEneny, who is co-chair of the Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment, which is drawing the new legislative maps in time for the 2012 elections.The...
The New York State Constitution requires that all "inhabitants, excluding aliens" shall be counted.  Assemblyman Jack McEneny's assertion that the current law that provides for the counting of prisoners at their location prior to incarceration causes may cause the exclusion of 20,000 inhabitants from the redistricting process might mean the law is unconstitutional.
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OPINION EDITORIALS ON THE CONSTITUTION
New York Times
Editorial
Monday, January 16, 2012
A Federal District Court late last month wisely upheld a 2010 Maryland law that counts prison inmates as residents in their home communities for purposes of redistricting, rather than at the prisons where they are incarcerated.
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Press Republican
Editorial
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
"But, for decades, they have been counted in the communities where they were housed. Clinton, Essex and Franklin counties are home to one federal and 10 state and correctional facilities. Those thousands of inmates have been welcome additions to the...
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New York Times
Editorial
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
"New York’s legislative redistricting committee is holding public hearings around the state, but the exercise is a sham. The new political districts are being drawn in secret for one overriding purpose: to protect party majorities...
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Times Union
Editorial
Wednesday, August 10, 2011
"So let’s watch out for especially blatant examples of electoral map-making that smack of incumbent protection. That’s especially critical in the Senate, where the Republicans have made it painfully clear that independent redistricting...
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Times Union
Ekow Yankah
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
 Imagine that you have been moved 300 miles from home, separated from anything familiar, isolated from your home and community. You are obligated to stay for a number of years. You no longer vote but, more peculiarly, your representation in...
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SOLUTIONS
Amendments proposed in the New York Legislature either currently or in the past that are worthy of note.
A selection of relevant solutions from other states.

Although prisoner's residency is in their home in 48 out of 50 states according to the state's constitution or law, when it comes to redistricting, 43 states count prisoner's residency as in the prison.  Currently, only 7 states count prison populations at their home addresses for redistricting, with only 7 other states that have pending legislation to end it.

 

 

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