New York press denounces efforts to bring back prison-based gerrymandering
by Leah Sakala, August 1, 2011
New York media have a long history of standing up for fair districting in the state of New York, and their role in current debate around bringing back the repugnant practice of prison-based gerrymandering is no different. Newspapers across the state continue to expose the harm of reverting back to a redistricting schema that undermines democracy by counting non-voting incarcerated populations in the wrong place.
There are currently two interrelated issues that are jeopardizing New York’s enforcement of its 2010 law to end prison-based gerrymandering, and recent editorials from newspapers throughout New York shed light on how the state’s democracy is at stake.
Issue #1: Several legislators, including Senator Betty Little, are suing to repeal last year’s law to end prison-based gerrymandering in New York.
The New York Times published an editorial, Real Prisoners, Phantom Residents, soon after the lawsuit was filed:
The New York State Legislature took a stand for electoral fairness last year when it banned prison-based gerrymandering, the cynical practice of counting prison inmates as “residents” to pad the population of legislative districts. The new law required that inmates be counted as residents of their home districts….
Many county governments with large prisons, including counties represented by Senator Little, have emphatically rejected the strategy of counting inmates as “residents.” Those governments rightly determined that the practice unfairly inflated the voting power of towns with prisons while diluting the power of others. Given the facts, the court should have an easy time dismissing this suit.
Issue #2: Rather than complying with New York’s current law, the Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment (LATFOR) has announced that it plans to continue to count incarcerated people where they are imprisoned instead of where they legally reside.
The New York Times‘s recent editorial declares:
Last year, when Democrats controlled all three branches of government, they passed a law to end prison gerrymandering. Republicans sued, but the case is still in its early stages. The redistricting panel — the Legislative Advisory Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment — has decided to ignore the law while the Republicans’ suit goes forward.
As lawmakers draw their districts, and New York’s Congressional maps, they have access to a large bag of tricks to keep themselves and their favorites in power. But this one isn’t just shameless. It’s flat-out illegal.
The Albany Times Union‘s editorial, What happened to the promise?, laments:
[I]f there was any pretense left that this was going to be an honest process, the task force threw it away in declaring that it will ignore a law requiring state prison inmates to be counted for redistricting purposes where their homes are, not where they’re incarcerated and have no representative to speak of.
The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle also published a recent editorial, Independence is key in state redistricting:
[A]rrogance also can be seen in Senate Republicans’ insistence on ignoring a new state law related to redistricting. The law adopted last year no longer allows many rural upstate communities to count state prison inmates as residents in the census. The vast majority of New York’s 56,000 state prison inmates are from urban areas such as New York City, Rochester and Buffalo.
The fact that all of the above newspapers have come out so strongly against prison-based gerrymandering in the state of New York shows that this issue extends far beyond questions of partisanship or geography. Simply put, when incarcerated people are counted in the wrong place, every single New York voter who doesn’t live near a prison loses out. As these editorials point out, legislators have an obligation to ensure that each voter has equal voting clout. Keeping prison-based gerrymandering out of New York is essential to ensure the constitutional guarantee of “One person, One vote.”