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New York bill benefits upstate residents as well

by Aleks Kajstura, July 6, 2010

The Buffalo News, covering western upstate New York, recently printed a story that claimed funding was at risk when New York considers counting prisoners at their address of residence for redistricting purposes. I wrote the following letter to the editor which, in addition to correcting the misconception about funding, points out the benefit of the bill to most upstate residents:

Redistricting unjustly records prisoners

“Paterson’s budget agenda is rejected” inaccurately describes the redistricting clause in the budget bill. New York uses unadjusted Census data in the redistricting process. Although the state constitution clearly states that incarceration does not change a person’s residence, the Census uses its own rules and counts prisoners as if they lived in the communities where prisons are located. When this raw data is used for redistricting, prison populations are used to pad the populations of districts that contain prisons. This practice dilutes the vote of those who do not have a prison in their community.

The current redistricting data is used to concentrate power in a select few upstate districts. Those who live upstate and in Western New York, but do not have a massive prison population in their community, have their vote diluted. In the State Senate, for example, the district of Sen. Little (located near Vermont) is padded with 13,000 non-resident prisoners. Every other district has to meet its required population with actual residents.

The status quo harms Buffalo residents. While Little is allowed to claim prisoners as constituents, Buffalo is left to rely on actual residents to meet population requirements. Buffalo residents deserve equal representation in government, and this provision will equalize the playing field.

The article repeats fear-mongering talking points that are blatantly false, but incessantly spread by those who support these prison-based gerrymandering schemes. The redistricting provision included in the bill would have no impact on government aid because federal and state aid is never distributed on the basis of redistricting data. The Buffalo region has nothing to lose, and much to gain from this change.

Aleks Kajstura

Legal Director, Prison Policy Initiative

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