Model County Resolution: Ending prison-based gerrymandering in your county.

Last Spring we prepared a model resolution for a county in New York that was considering ending prison-based gerrymandering in the next round of redistricting. In August, New York State passed a law that ended prison-based gerrymandering in both state legislative districts and in local governments, mooting this resolution. However, we're publishing a modified version here in the hopes that it may be useful to local governments in states that are not yet requiring an end to prison-based gerrymandering. This model has four alternative clauses that each end prison-based gerrymandering by slightly different means.

Proposed Census-adjustment resolution: Smith County

WHEREAS the U.S. Census currently counts incarcerated people as residents of their place of incarceration and

WHEREAS, The New York State Constitution at Article II Section 4, declares that "[f]or the purpose of voting, no person shall be deemed to have gained or lost a residence, by reason of his or her presence or absence, … while confined in any public prison."

WHEREAS, almost all of the people incarcerated at the correctional facilities located within the borders of our county are not residents of our county, and

WHEREAS these incarcerated persons do not become residents of the county when they are incarcerated, since they are here involuntarily and can be relocated by the Commissioner of Corrections at the latter's discretion, and

WHEREAS, persons incarcerated in state and federal correctional institutions live in a separate environment, do not vote or otherwise participate in the life of Smith County, cannot build enduring ties in Smith County, and do not individually affect the social and economic character of the towns in which the correctional facilities are located, and

WHEREAS, these individuals are counted by the U.S. Census as if they were residents of our county, and in the past the county has used these Census counts to draw legislative districts, and

WHEREAS, when the county uses prison populations to draw legislative districts, it gives extra influence to the districts that contain the prisons; for example, in the districts drawn after the 2000 Census, 40% of the population assigned to District 3 (Springfield) was incarcerated, effectively giving each group of 60 people in District 3 as much of a say over county matters as 100 people elsewhere, and

WHEREAS, this "prison-based gerrymandering" contradicts the basic principles of equal representation embraced by our state and federal Constitutions, and

WHEREAS, 13 New York Counties (Cayuga, Chemung, Clinton, Dutchess, Essex, Franklin, Greene, Orange, Orleans, Schoharie, Sullivan, Washington, and Wyoming) and more than 100 countries around the country currently avoid the problem of prison-based gerrymandering by ignoring the prison populations when drawing legislative districts or designing weighted voting systems,

WHEREAS, the Census Bureau shall, for the first time, in May 2011, be publishing the group quarters counts early so that counties such as ours can use Census data to avoid prison-based gerrymandering when redistricting.

Alternative resolution clause 1

BE IT RESOLVED THAT redistricting data used in Smith County shall not include people incarcerated at state or federal prisons in the county.

Alternative resolution clause 2

BE IT RESOLVED THAT Smith County will remove the prison populations from the redistricting data used to draw county legislative districts.

Alternative resolution clause 3

BE IT RESOLVED THAT until State or federal entities make available data indicating the true residences of individuals in prison, Smith County will not presume persons imprisoned in Smith County to be residents of Smith County, and will adjust redistricting data provided by the census to remove Smith County prison populations for purposes of drawing county legislative districts.

Alternative resolution clause 4

BE IT RESOLVED THAT Smith County concludes that the ideal data to use to draw county legislative districts would count incarcerated people at their home addresses. The census blocks that contain correctional facilities in our county would not have any population, and any Smith County residents incarcerated in Smith or other counties would be reflected in their home census blocks in Smith County, and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that, recognizing that the Census Bureau and the state do not make such a data set of home addresses available to us, the appropriate thing to do is to treat all people incarcerated at state and federal correctional facilities in Smith County as being improperly assigned here. Because their actual addresses are unknown to us, Smith County shall not include the population of state and federal correctional facilities in the data used to draw county legislative districts, and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that, because the Smith County Board of Legislators does not presently have access to the proper residential address of all incarcerated persons in Smith County, or to the Smith County residential addresses of all Smith residents incarcerated elsewhere. The proper residential addresses of state and federal inmates shall be considered unknown for the purposes of establishing future county legislative districts, until state or federal sources provide this data or otherwise tally incarcerated persons at their proper residential addresses. The Smith County Board of Legislators resolves to utilize the Advance Group Quarters table prepared by the Census Bureau, which in 2011 will be released in May, to identify the incarcerated populations that have been incorrectly assigned to the addresses where they are incarcerated in Smith County, and to adjust the Census data for apportionment and redistricting purposes to reflect only those populations with known residential addresses. The Smith County Board of Legislators further resolves to apportion and draw district lines for county board seats using only populations with known residential addresses.

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