Fixing prison-based gerrymandering after the 2010 Census: New York

50 State Guide, March 2010

Impact at the state level
Impact at the local level
New York law says a prison cell is not a residence
Additional resources

Prison-based gerrymandering violates the constitutional principle of "One Person, One Vote." The Supreme Court requires districts to be based on equal population in order to give each resident the same access to government. But a longstanding flaw in the Census counts incarcerated people as residents of the prison location, even though they can’t vote and aren’t a part of the surrounding community.

When legislators claim people incarcerated in their districts are legitimate constituents, they award people who live close to the prison more of a say in government than everybody else.

Impact at the state level:

  • Without using prison populations as padding, seven New York Senate districts drawn after the 2000 Census do not meet constitutional population requirements.
    • For example, each Senate district in New York should have 306,072 residents. District 45, which claims the populations of thirteen large prisons, however, has only 286,614 actual residents.
  • Crediting all of New York’s incarcerated people to a few locations, far from home, enhances the political clout of the people who live near prisons, while diluting voting power of all other New Yorkers.

Impact at the local level:

  • In Livingston County, which uses weighted voting, the town of Groveland derived 62% of its population from one large prison after the 2000 census; allowing the Groveland Supervisor to exercise 107 Board of Supervisor votes instead of the 40 votes he would be entitled to without the prison.
  • Substantial prison-based gerrymandering problems also existed in Chautauqua, Erie, Jefferson, Livingston, Madison, Oneida, St. Lawrence and Wayne counties and the cities of Elmira, Hudson, New York City, and Rome after the 2000 Census.
  • Thirteen New York counties with large prisons adjusted the 2000 Census count, removing the prison population before redistricting to avoid vote dilution in their districts.
  • An additional 2 counties with new prisons will, if the prison-based gerrymandering bill does not pass in the state legislature, have to decide whether they wish to modify the Census on their own to avoid giving extra representation in county government to the people who live near the prison at the expense of residents elsewhere in the county. Over the last decade, a new federal prison was built in Genesee County, and a state prison opened in Seneca County just months after the 2000 Census was taken, and will therefore appear in the Census for the first time in 2010.

New York law says a prison cell is not a residence:

  • “For the purpose of voting, no person shall be deemed to have gained or lost a residence… while confined in any public prison.” (New York Constitution, Article II, § 4.)

Legislation (as of August 2010):

  • New York passed a law to collect the home addresses of incarcerated people, and to require the state and county governments to draw legislature districts on the basis of Census Bureau data corrected to count incarcerated people at their home addresses. The bill to end prison-based gerrymandering was attached as part XX of the revenue budget (A9710D/S6610C) and had a technical amendment, A11597/S8415. The Bill and the amendment passed the Assembly on July 1, and the Senate on August 3, and signed into law by the Governor on August 12, 2010.

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