Edward Fitzpatrick: R.I’s new House speaker has a captive constituency
by Aleks Kajstura, April 1, 2014
Today, Ed Fitzpatrick, political columnist for the Providence journal, tackled prison gerrymandering in Rhode Island:
[T]here’s nothing unusual about the fact that new Democratic House Speaker Nicholas A. Mattiello now wields more power than if he were simply representing part of Cranston.
But there is one unusual thing about Mattiello’s House district: 8.6 percent of the people in his district are inmates at the Adult Correctional Institutions, and the vast majority of those inmates can’t vote for or against him, according to the Prison Policy Initiative, based in Easthampton, Mass.
“It’s representation without population,” said the group’s legal director, Aleks Kajstura. “Counting incarcerated people as if they were residents of the ACI undermines the principle of one person, one vote.”
According to 2010 Census data, the ACI in Cranston houses 3,433 inmates, and many of them are ineligible to vote because they’re behind bars for a felony conviction. About 1,000 of the inmates face misdemeanors or are awaiting trial and can still vote. But they must vote by absentee ballot using the address they had before they checked into A.T. Wall’s graybar hotel (as I like to call it)….
“[Mattiello] has a responsibility to fix this problem, especially now that he is speaker,” Prison Policy Initiative executive director Peter J. Wagner said Monday. “This is about fairness and what’s right for the state. It’s not one corner of Cranston. He has a responsibility to ensure all state residents equal representation in government.”