News Coverage on Redistricting Prisoners

Daily News

Area lawmakers say prison population changes are 'political power grab'

Matt Surte
Friday, January 13, 2012

BATAVIA -- A change in rules removing prison inmates from population estimates will affect most area lawmakers.

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.

Most local political districts will lose up to several thousand people in the process when redistricting occurs. The exact amount will depend on the inmates' hometowns.

"I think this is absolutely horrific for upstate New York and Western New York in particular," said Assemblyman Steve Hawley, R-Albion.

"They reside in Western New York. They reside in upstate. This is nothing more than a political power grab for downstate interests. It further diminishes the population upstate by giving more to the population downstate."

State estimates from this past autumn show changes would include:

n 147th Assembly District -- The district held by Daniel Burling, R-Warsaw, will lose the third-most population of any statewide.

The district will have 5,329 fewer people when redistricting occurs. The region includes Attica, Wyoming, Groveland and Livingston correctional facilities.

n 139th Assembly District -- The district held by Hawley will lose 1,627 people. It includes Albion and Orleans correctional facilities.

n 59th State Senate District -- The district held by Patrick Gallivan, R-Depew, will lose the second-most population of any statewide.

The district will lose 7,119 people. It includes Attica, Wyoming, Groveland, and Wende correctional facilities.

n 62nd State Senate District -- The district held by George Maziarz, R-Newfane, will lose 1,255 people. It includes Albion and Orleans correctional facilities.

n 61st State Senate District -- The district held by Michael Ranzenhofer, R-Williamsville, has no state prisons and will gain 267 people.

The state re-draws its political boundaries every 10 years as the population changes. Several Republican lawmakers lost a State Supreme Court suit to overturn the new rules, before the Dec. 22 deal was reached.

Under the deal, prisoners won't be counted if records can't identify the specific election district they lived in last, according to Associated Press reporting.

The population estimates will likely shift in favor of urban, Democratic areas downstate. Those supporting the changes have described them as fair, since inmates -- who can't vote regardless -- are now listed as being from their own communities, instead of prison towns.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman defended the changes in court. He called the ruling "a victory for fundamental fairness and equal representation" in a Dec. 2 statement.

"As a lawmaker, I fought to end the practice of prison-based gerrymandering that distorted the democratic process and undermined the principle of 'one person, one vote.'" he said. "This decision affirms and applies a fair standard to the drawing of state legislative districts and makes it easier for counties to do the same by providing them with an accurate data set."

Republicans have said the new rules shift political power away from upstate.

"It's giving more representation to downstate when it really isn't so," Hawley said. "(The inmates) reside here. They resided here at the census, and this is another example of downstate interests short-circuiting and short-changing upstate interests."

"I thought it was a bad decision," Maziarz said. "I think the meaning of the census is pretty clear. You count where they live.

"In some cases, prisoners are going to be living there for many, many, many years," he continued. "It's just another move that heavily favors downstate ... You can tell me that somebody sentenced to 25 to life in Orleans is going to be counted as living in New York City? That's ridiculous."

Burling said the rule changes were originally passed when Democrats controlled the legislature and senate, describing them as a way to garner more political seats and power in the New York City area.

"I don't agree with it," he said. "I think it was just pure politics -- a power play if you will."

Congressional districts won't be affected by the change.

 

 

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