Massachusetts considers creative solutions to prison-based gerrymandering
by Aleks Kajstura, June 9, 2011
If Massachusetts wants to stamp out prison-based gerrymandering within its borders a piecemeal approach is required, as reported by this week’s edition of the Bay State Banner.
Last year, New York, Maryland and Delaware passed laws to correct the possible violation of the one person, one vote principle and adjust census data, which the states are using in redrawing legislative districts based on the 2010 Census….
In Massachusetts, the Legislature cannot adopt similar legislation without amending the state constitution, the only one in the country that indisputably requires the census be used in state redistricting.
Still, activists have figured out creative strategies to limit the distortion of voting power and are lobbying the Special Joint Committee on Redistricting to embrace them.
The key to their strategies is the limited flexibility that the U.S. Supreme Court allows in how many people live in each district. That number can vary as much as 5 percent above or below what would be an exactly equal amount in every district.
Two activists [Peter Wagner of the Prison Policy Initiative and Brenda Wright of Demos] have urged the redistricting committee to give legislative districts with prisons up to 5 percent more residents, and those districts where many prisoners last lived up to 5 percent fewer residents….
Wright recommended the Legislature pass a resolution calling for the Census Bureau to change the way it counts prisoners, an adjustment that would come too late to affect the current round of redistricting. She also urged the Legislature to start the long process of amending the constitution in case the federal agency does not take action.
Wagner said it would be better for Massachusetts and the rest of the country if the Census Bureau did change its method of counting prisoners.
“I think the ideal place for a fix to happen is at the Census Bureau,” Wagner said in an interview. “It would be easier on states and local governments if they did it.”