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Youngstown to avoid prison gerrymandering, mostly

by Aleks Kajstura, July 29, 2014

Youngstown, Ohio is poised to finally bring voting equality to its residents, after 30 years of inaction and a year of discussion.

The city has not restricted in over 30 years, and according to David Skolnick’s reporting at the Vindicator, “the population in the wards currently range from 7,227 to 12,130, using 2010 census numbers.”

This means that the votes cast by some residents are worth more than others’. Now the Council is redrawing the map to ensure that each ward has more or less the same number of residents, but the presence of several correctional facilities in the city is making that task harder than necessary. The Census Bureau counts incarcerated people as if they were residents of the prison location, even though they remain residents of their home addresses. Youngstown now joins over 200 other local governments around the country in coming up with a solution on their own.

And in the final plan under consideration, the city managed to avoid the pitfalls of prison gerrymandering, mostly:

Despite initial opposition from at least three of seven council members, this map doesn’t count the 2,071 prisoners at the Northeast Ohio Correctional Center on the East Side in the city’s population.

About 75 percent of that prison’s population is illegal immigrants convicted of federal felonies.

The board’s map does include 541 inmates at the Ohio State Penitentiary, also on the East Side, with nearly all its inmates being maximum-security prisoners not from Youngstown, and the 438 prisoners at the Mahoning County jail downtown, with a majority being city residents.

As Skolnick suggests, there is no logical reason why some of the prison populations should be counted as if they were residents of the location of the facility and while others not. Those in state custody are no more residents of the city than those serving their time in the federal facility. And even if some of the folks in the county jail are actual residents of the city, the chances that they’re all residents of the ward that the jail is in are slim.

Luckily, the number of incarcerated people in the state and county facilities is small enough that it’s unlikely to have a significant impact on the wards’ population equality. So when the Council votes on the new map in August, it’ll be taking a huge step in the right direction.

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