Somerset County says no to prison-based gerrymandering

by Peter Wagner, February 4, 2010

A vote in Somerset County Maryland means that ending prison-based gerrymandering is getting closer.

An NAACP- and ACLU-led group of county leaders and community members, called the Somerset County Task Force on Diversity, has called for the county to explore the possibility of disregarding the population at the state prison when the county next updates its county legislative lines after the 2010 Census. In a 4-1 vote, the County Commission endorsed the Task Force’s recommendations.

The county contains a county commission district that was deliberately drawn as a majority-minority district in order to settle a Voting Rights Act lawsuit but has been unable to elect an African-American because the district includes the prison population which can not vote. (The African-American resident population in the district is too small to elect an African-American candidate but an effective African-American district could be drawn if the prison population was not included in the population count.)

The lone dissenting vote was that of James Ring, who represents the prison district, because he thought the response was not strong enough. He:

“objected to a paragraph on election reform, which he interpreted as favoring the counting of prison inmates in the drawing of election districts. ‘I don’t like that worth a nickel,’ he said.”

It is a good sign that this dispute is not over the wisdom of prison-based gerrymandering, but over how strenuously to object to the practice.

See Commissioners respond to diversity recommendations by Liz Holland, The Daily Times January 20, 2010; and our previous coverage for the The Daily Times’ editorial support for ending prison-based gerrymandering.

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