Call your cell a residence?: Do not pass “GO”, go directly to ….

by Peter Wagner, September 8, 2003

In 1894, Michael Cady tried to register to vote using his address at the Tombs Jail in New York City. Jail inmates are allowed to vote, but he was convicted for illegal registration because the NY Constitution says that

“no person shall be deemed to have gained or lost a residence, by reason of his presence or absence … while confined in any public prison.”

The prosecution’s theory that that while Cady was allowed to vote, he could not vote in the prison district. Even through Cady was planning on staying at the Tombs forever, Cady must have — the prosecution argued — lived somewhere else before.

The highest court in New York agreed:

“The Tombs is not a place of residence. It is not constructed or maintained for that purpose. It is a place of confinement for all except the keeper and his family, and a person cannot under the guise of a commitment … go there as a prisoner, having a right to be there only as a prisoner, and gain a residence there.”

If calling your jail cell your residence gets you sent to prison, shouldn’t it be illegal for rural legislators to call prisoners their “constituents”?

Read more about Michael Cady in Importing Constituents: Prisoner and Political Clout in New York.

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