It’s “the law” not “a deal”

by Peter Wagner, January 13, 2012  

Numerous press reports in the last few days have described the implementation of New York’s law ending prison-based gerrymandering as a “deal”, with language like this one:

“Under the deal, prisoners won’t be counted if records can’t identify the specific election district they lived in last.”

That’s factually incorrect. The “deal” was that the Assembly and the Senate agreed to follow the law which requires that the ‘populations’ of prisons not be used as the basis for drawing districts, and that prisoners be counted instead at their prior home addresses. The law further requires that those whose homes are out-of-state, or for whom address information is lacking, not be included in the redistricting database.

While the Senate Majority made it clear they did not like the law, they never contested this reading of the law. During the most recent round of stalling over implementation of the law, the dispute within the Legislature’s Redistricting Task Force appears to have been over the adequacy of some of the available address information and over which software package was most appropriate for locating the home addresses.

Given the partisan vortex in New York, it’s easy to see how reporters coming late to the issue, and interviewing back-bench politicians, could write stories that conflate pre-existing details of the law with a groundbreaking “deal”. But what the Senate and Assembly finally agreed to do on January 10 was to stop arguing over microscopic details and to release one adjusted dataset that can be used for state and local redistricting. In other states, that wouldn’t even be “news”, let alone a “deal”.

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