by Peter Wagner, June 22, 2005

NEWS RELEASE JUNE 22, 2005 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT:Brenda Wright, National Voting Rights Institute (617) 624-3900, ext. 13
Peter Wagner, Prison Policy Initiative

Today, the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit is hearing arguments in two cases alleging that New York’s felon disenfranchisement laws violate the Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution (Muntaqim v. Coombe and Hayden v. Pataki). The National Voting Rights Institute and the Prison Policy Initiative have filed an amicus brief with the Court arguing that the Court should consider the redistricting implications of disenfranchisement as part of the “totality of circumstances” which must be examined under the Voting Rights Act. The brief highlights the New York State legislature’s racially discriminatory redistricting practice of crediting rural white counties with additional population based on the presence of disenfranchised prisoners in upstate prisons.

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by Peter Wagner, June 1, 2005

The American system of democracy distributes political power to the people by the means of legislative districts, which are redrawn after the Census each decade to ensure that each district contains the same number of people. When these district lines are fairly drawn around different “communities of interest”, the system works quite well at allowing the citizenry to exert political power in proportion to their numbers. But the discussion over how to best draw the lines breaks down when the underlying Census data does not reflect the actual populations of our communities.

The Census Bureau counts disenfranchised prisoners as if they were residents of the places where they are temporarily and involuntarily incarcerated. One of the most visible impacts on the political process is in New York’s 59th Senate District represented by Senator Dale Volker. Senator Volker claims his stance as the state’s staunchest defender of the draconian Rockefeller drug laws is in the interests of his constituents. But in 2001, only 3 people were sentenced to state prison for drug offenses from Senator Volker’s home Wyoming County. Even when I compensated for the huge population difference between New York City and Wyoming County, I found that New York City residents were 8 times as likely to be sent to prison for drug offenses in 2001 than residents in Wyoming County.

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