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Baltimore Sun op-ed supports Maryland’s No Representation Without Population act

by Leah Sakala, December 20, 2011

Maryland’s No Representation Without Population act ended prison-based gerrymandering throughout the state, but the law is currently being challenged in federal court.

The Baltimore Sun just published a great op-ed defending the law. As Ajmel Quereshi and Athar Haseebullah explain, Maryland’s landmark civil rights law strengthens minority voting power:

While the merits of taking away an incarcerated person’s vote may same fair to some, few think that the communities from which incarcerated people hail should likewise be punished by having their voting power diminished. But that is precisely what happens.

When a person from an urban and largely minority community, such as Baltimore, is convicted, that individual is moved to a prison to serve his or her sentence. These prisons are often located in rural, primarily white, communities. When congressional districts are drawn to ensure there is a roughly equal number of people in each congressional district, prisoners are not counted as a part of their home district, but instead are counted as part of the population at the location of their prison — even though they cannot vote in that district.

This policy drains the political power of the incarcerated individual’s home community and adds to the political power of the area where the prison is located.

Understanding the deleterious effects of this policy, Maryland enacted the No Representation Without Population Act in 2010. By doing so, Maryland finally required that prisoners be counted in the communities from which they came and to which they are likely to return when they regain their right to vote. The No Representation Without Population Act was spearheaded by the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland and widely supported by state and national civil rights groups, including the Maryland State Conference of the NAACP and the ACLU of Maryland.

The No Representation Without Population Act was implemented to correct injustice. It is perhaps not surprising that those funding this lawsuit are attempting to fool Marylanders. If the act is struck down, conservative districts with large prisons will once again get extra credit for the prison populations — and prisoners’ home districts will receive less than a fair and equal voice in the political process. The result would be minority communities that are drained of their political power — again.

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