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Prison gerrymandering gives extra political power to legislators who have prisons in their districts. We put numbers on the problem and sparked a movement to protect our democratic process from the overgrown prison system.

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Peter Wagner, Executive DirectorDonate

Temporary populations change the political face of New York; 98% of NY’s prison cells are in Republican Senate Districts

by Peter Wagner, August 30, 2004

As this week’s news coverage has emphasized, the Republican National Convention is being held in strongly Democratic New York City. While the presence of thousands of high-profile Republicans will not directly affect future New York elections, another temporary transfer of population might.

New York City is not just the host of the Republican National Convention, it’s the actual home of the majority of the state’s prisoners. I have previously reported that 65% of New York State’s prisoners come from the city, but 91% of the prison cells are upstate.

But what party represents the Senate districts that host the prisons? As of January 2003, 98% of New York’s prisoners were incarcerated in Senate districts represented by Republicans.

While the media coverage recognizes that large numbers of Republicans from the “Red States” are “in town” only for the convention, the Census Bureau uses an outdated methodology that credits the population of disenfranchised prisoners to the small communities that host the prisons. This practice inflates the population of the upstate region, giving it additional clout in the state legislature without risking a change in who wins the legislative seats.

The New York State Senate has a long history of gerrymandering districts to keep itself firmly under Republican control in a state dominated by Democrats. The inclusion of tens of thousands of New York City’s disenfranchised residents as a part of the upstate population is one of many factors that aid the Republicans in keeping control of the State Senate.

98% of NY's prison cells are in Republican Senate districts

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