Messenger Post editorial says that LATFOR's decision to follow the NY law that ended prison-based gerrymandering is a step in the right direction.

by Leah Sakala, August 10, 2011

The Canandaigua Messenger Post published a strong editorial this week calling for redistricting reform in the State of New York. After decrying the Legislative Advisory Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment (LATFOR)’s partisan ties, the editorial pointed out that it looks like at least some legislators are heading in the right direction:

There are signs the lawmakers have noticed. For instance, the task force intended to ignore a new law that requires prison inmates to be counted in the district in which they lived before their incarceration. Until last year, they had been counted as living in the district in which they were imprisoned, a move that helped pad population numbers for upstate Senate Republicans.

Lawmakers now say they’ll follow the law, which is still being challenged in court by Senate Republicans. That lent irony to task force co-chairman state Sen. Michael Nozzolio’s assertion that, “the law will be complied with, whatever that law is.”

It’s clear that where incarcerated people are counted has a significant impact on the fairness of New York’s district boundaries. With New York’s democracy at stake, there’s a lot to lose.

If you’d like a detailed overview of how prison-based gerrymandering factors into the issues that New York’s redistricting process is currently facing, check out the Legislative Gazette‘s recent article that comprehensively explains where things stand.

LATFOR announces at a public hearing in Albany that it will count incarcerated people at home in order to comply with New York law.

by Leah Sakala, August 4, 2011

New York’s Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment (LATFOR) announced today at a public hearing that it will fully comply with last year’s law that ended prison-based gerrymandering.

LATFOR’s agreement to follow the law is good news for New York’s democracy. By counting incarcerated populations at home, LATFOR will be able to propose redistricting plans that are consistent with the legislature’s decision that a New York voter’s residential proximity to a prison has no business determining the strength of his or her vote.

LATFOR’s announcement was made on the heels of an outpouring of media coverage, testimony, and letters from legislators, civil rights advocates, and New York citizens who are all working to keep prison-based gerrymandering out of New York.

Most recently, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Assemblyman Jack McEneny released a statement yesterday calling on LATFOR to respect the law:

Last year, the Legislature passed a law requiring that prison inmates be counted in their home communities rather than their incarceration address for the purpose of redistricting. The Assembly Majority believes that complying with the law as written is not only the prudent thing to do, it is also the right thing to do. In order to comply with the law, Assembly staff have been working with the original inmate records provided by Department of Corrections and Community Supervision to ensure inmates are counted properly. Our work is nearly complete and the results will be made public in the near future.

We urge our task force members to join with us, ensuring compliance with both the letter and intent of the law. This is the responsible action for the Legislature to take. Regardless of any personal political stance on the prison count issue, we encourage all task force members to join us in our effort to fully comply with the law as it is written

The Albany Times Union published an article on the same topic earlier today.

Newspaper editorials from across the New York State rebuke efforts to bring back prison-based gerrymandering.

by Leah Sakala, August 1, 2011

New York media have a long history of standing up for fair districting in the state of New York, and their role in current debate around bringing back the repugnant practice of prison-based gerrymandering is no different. Newspapers across the state continue to expose the harm of reverting back to a redistricting schema that undermines democracy by counting non-voting incarcerated populations in the wrong place.

There are currently two interrelated issues that are jeopardizing New York’s enforcement of its 2010 law to end prison-based gerrymandering, and recent editorials from newspapers throughout New York shed light on how the state’s democracy is at stake.

Issue #1: Several legislators, including Senator Betty Little, are suing to repeal last year’s law to end prison-based gerrymandering in New York.

  • The New York Times published an editorial, Real Prisoners, Phantom Residents, soon after the lawsuit was filed:

    article thumbnailThe New York State Legislature took a stand for electoral fairness last year when it banned prison-based gerrymandering, the cynical practice of counting prison inmates as “residents” to pad the population of legislative districts. The new law required that inmates be counted as residents of their home districts….

    Many county governments with large prisons, including counties represented by Senator Little, have emphatically rejected the strategy of counting inmates as “residents.” Those governments rightly determined that the practice unfairly inflated the voting power of towns with prisons while diluting the power of others. Given the facts, the court should have an easy time dismissing this suit.

Issue #2: Rather than complying with New York’s current law, the Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment (LATFOR) has announced that it plans to continue to count incarcerated people where they are imprisoned instead of where they legally reside.

  • The New York Times‘s recent editorial declares:

    New York Times editorial thumbnailLast year, when Democrats controlled all three branches of government, they passed a law to end prison gerrymandering. Republicans sued, but the case is still in its early stages. The redistricting panel — the Legislative Advisory Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment — has decided to ignore the law while the Republicans’ suit goes forward.

    As lawmakers draw their districts, and New York’s Congressional maps, they have access to a large bag of tricks to keep themselves and their favorites in power. But this one isn’t just shameless. It’s flat-out illegal.

  • The Albany Times Union‘s editorial, What happened to the promise?, laments:

    thumbnail of article

    [I]f there was any pretense left that this was going to be an honest process, the task force threw it away in declaring that it will ignore a law requiring state prison inmates to be counted for redistricting purposes where their homes are, not where they’re incarcerated and have no representative to speak of.

  • The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle also published a recent editorial, Independence is key in state redistricting:

    news thumbnail[A]rrogance also can be seen in Senate Republicans’ insistence on ignoring a new state law related to redistricting. The law adopted last year no longer allows many rural upstate communities to count state prison inmates as residents in the census. The vast majority of New York’s 56,000 state prison inmates are from urban areas such as New York City, Rochester and Buffalo.

The fact that all of the above newspapers have come out so strongly against prison-based gerrymandering in the state of New York shows that this issue extends far beyond questions of partisanship or geography. Simply put, when incarcerated people are counted in the wrong place, every single New York voter who doesn’t live near a prison loses out. As these editorials point out, legislators have an obligation to ensure that each voter has equal voting clout. Keeping prison-based gerrymandering out of New York is essential to ensure the constitutional guarantee of “One person, One vote.”

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