Benefits to New York State’s upstate (and downstate) residents
by Aleks Kajstura, August 12, 2010
Two recent letters to the editor break down the false dichotomy of downstate versus upstate. While most media coverage has focused on how the new bill affects districting in the downstate region, benefits to upstate residents have remained overlooked. This bill does not benefit downstate residents to the detriment of those who live further north, rather, it contains provisions that benefit all of the state’s residents.
Prisoner count will mean fairer districting
The bill — which does not apply to federal or state funding — requires state, county and municipal districts be drawn based on home addresses. This is a big win for every resident of Elmira who doesn’t live next to the Elmira Correctional Facility in the 3rd City Council District. Padding that district with 1,845 prisoners gives the residents of that district twice the influence over the rest of the city.
The new law will require that the City of Elmira draw its city council districts of actual population. The only prisoners who will be included in the city’s districts will be those who are from Elmira (and thus are still the city’s legal residents). Elmira’s residents will now benefit from the equality in the city council; this benefit more than outweighs the smaller impact on state Senate districts.
Chemung County’s legislative districts will remain unaffected because the county has historically ignored the Elmira Correctional Facility when drawing the county districts. In doing so, Chemung has drawn districts that complied with the state constitution’s definition of residence. Starting next year, the districts of the state Senate, the state Assembly, and the City of Elmira will be drawn the same way.
Seward’s opposition to prison-based gerrymandering law misplaced
Spreading fear about the impact of ending prison-based gerrymandering on Senator Seward’s district distracts from the real benefits to upstate New York. The City of Hudson will no longer be allowed to grant the 3rd Ward extra representation because it contains a prison. Had this bill existed 10 years ago, Greene County would have been sparred a long public debate about whether the County Legislature should base its county districts on the prison populations or whether it should conduct its own adjustments.
The County ultimately did the right thing and rejected the Census Bureau’s prison counts. I can only hope that if Senator Seward proceeds with his lawsuit against the new law, he doesn’t also sue Greene County for leading the way.