In an interview on WPFM, PPI’s Exec. Dir. Peter Wagner offered some clarifications about the lawsuit filed to repeal the law that ended prison-based gerrymandering in Maryland.

by Leah Sakala, December 7, 2011

In an interview with Gloria Minott this morning on WPFM, PPI’s Executive Director Peter Wagner offered some clarifications about the Fletcher v. Lamone lawsuit filed to repeal the No Representation Without Population Act that ended prison-based gerrymandering in Maryland.

“The plaintiffs are filing this lawsuit arguing that Maryland’s law, the No Representation Without Population Act, dilutes the votes of African-Americans,” he said, “They have this backwards.”

Peter then explained how Maryland’s first-in-the-nation law increases, not diminishes, minority voting power in Maryland, bringing Maryland’s redistricting process closer in line with the federal “one person, one vote” principle.

To learn more about the case or to read case documents, visit our Fletcher v. Lamone page.

Unfortunate myths fuel NY officials' concerns about ending prison-based gerrymandering in New York State.

by Peter Wagner, December 7, 2011

Last Friday, New York Judge Eugene Devine dismissed a lawsuit filed by Republican lawmakers that sought a return to prison-based gerrymandering. North Country Public Radio covered the reactions of Senator Little and one local official, giving us a great opportunity to address several myths about ending prison-based gerrymandering in New York State. The radio story reports:

The ruling was also a blow to some local leaders, whose communities rely heavily on inmates to bolster their populations. Howard Maneely is town supervisor of Malone.

“Malone is unique, we’re a small town. We have three state prisons here. About one-third of our population are confined to the three correctional facilities. If we take them away from our count, from our population of Malone, we will have hardly any representation at all. Our district will be so big, we’ll hardly know our legislators anymore.”

Putting aside the constitutional question about why legislative districts are based on population and not other factors, I wonder which level of government Supervisor Maneely is worried about and if there might be some fundamental misunderstandings behind his concerns.

On the level of the state senate, with or without the prison population Malone is a tiny part of Senator Little’s district. The prison is a big employer and a newfound priority for Senator Little, but the town itself isn’t a big player in the district. Of course, if Malone has a town-specific need for Senator Little’s attention, they will need something that Senator Little responds to: votes. And that’s one thing that Malone’s prisons can’t provide.

But there is one place where the fact that Malone’s population is one-third incarcerated might have an immediate effect on the town’s ability to influence policy: the county legislature.

I suspect the Supervisor is worrying that without using the prison as padding, the town of Malone’s clout in the country legislature would plummet. Except, of course, it never had that clout in the first place. Franklin County has always refused to use the prison populations when drawing country districts. North Country Public Radio summarized the County Chairman’s explanation of avoiding prison-based gerrymandering as a “no-brainer.”

Franklin County was one of 13 New York counties that refused to use the prison populations when drawing county districts after the 2000 Census. In neighboring Essex County, the Board of Supervisors put their rationale in the Local Law:

Persons incarcerated in state and federal correctional institutions live in a separate environment, do not participate in the life of Essex County, and do not affect the social and economic character of the towns in which … the correctional facilities where they are incarcerated are located.

The inclusion of these federal and state correctional facility inmates unfairly dilutes the votes or voting weight of persons residing in other towns within Essex County. This is particularly so if the 1,898 inmates in the town of North Elba are included in its population total of 8,661 since those inmates would then represent 21.914% of the town of North Elba’s population.

The Board of Supervisors finds that the population base to be utilized in and by the plan apportioning the Essex County Board of Supervisors should exclude state and federal inmates.

Unfortunately, not all counties avoided prison-based gerrymandering like Supervisor Maneely’s county did. That’s why the law passed last year that ended prison-based gerrymandering also amended the Municipal Home Rule Law to require county and municipal governments to avoid prison-based gerrymandering. Senator Little’s lawsuit attacked that part of the law as well, but fortunately the Judge’s decision last week protects the entire law.

I wonder if Supervisor Maneely’s concern may be motivated in part by a separate misunderstanding. One clue may be the fact that he recently told the New York state redistricting Task Force: “We provide services for [incarcerated people] and those facilities, and we need that count….”

Many people don’t know this – and certain upstate Senators are reluctant to clear up this confusion held by their supporters – but the bill in New York does not apply to funding. The bill changes where incarcerated people are counted for redistricting purposes only. Federal and state funds are distributed by a series of complicated formulas, none of which rely on state or local redistricting data. No state or federal funding based on population will be affected. And any payments that the prison system currently makes for town services provided, ie. water, sewer, etc., are based on the prisons actual usage and are unrelated to the Census counts.

Finally, prison-based gerrymandering is over in New York. People who live in state legislative districts that do not have prisons will no longer have their votes diluted. People who live in counties or municipalities with prisons but not immediately adjacent to the prisons will also no longer have their votes diluted. The establishment of one clear standard for state, county and municipal government will set positive example for other states to follow.

And what lessons should other states draw from New York’s experience? Clear up these confusions about how these laws work and who benefits early and often.

Judge rejects Senators' lawsuit, says law ending prison-based gerrymandering must stand. Legislature further postpones implementation of law. Coincidence?

by Peter Wagner, December 5, 2011

Jimmy Vielkind writes in the Albany Times Union‘s Capital Confidential Blog that New York’s redistricting task force has postponed today’s meeting about implementing the law ending prison-based gerrymandering.

The Assembly did their reallocation months ago and was happy with their work, and, while it looked to me like the Senate was either stalling or planning to ignore the law, Senator Nozzolio repeatedly told the press that, “the law will be complied with, whatever that law is. Impressions to the contrary are simply not accurate.” In fact, some of his quotes appeared a little testy regarding the letter that the Prison Policy Initiative and other civil rights groups sent urging the redistricting task force to — until told otherwise by a judge — follow the law.

I can’t imagine what could be the hold up now. Did something happen?

Oh, that’s right. On Friday, New York Supreme Court Justice Eugene Devine threw out the Little v. LATFOR case the Republicans filed to overturn the law ending prison-based gerrymandering in New York.

The coalition amicus brief shows that Maryland's “No Representation Without Population” law is protective of minority voting rights.

December 5, 2011


Please Contact:
Meredith Curtis, ACLU of Maryland 410-889-8555
Peter Wagner, Prison Policy Initiative 413-587-0845
Lauren Strayer, Dēmos 212-389-1413
Gerald Stansbury, Maryland NAACP 410-533-7302
Kirkland Hall, Somerset NAACP 443-235-8126

BALTIMORE, MD – Strongly contending that the Republican-sponsored challenge to Maryland’s landmark 2010 civil rights law, the “No Representation Without Population Act,” runs directly contrary to its plaintiffs’ goal of increased representation for Maryland’s African-American community, a coalition of civil rights groups today announces that an amicus brief has been filed to counter misinformation and defend the landmark civil rights law. The brief was filed with a special three-judge federal court convened to hear the Fletcher v. Lamone case, on behalf of the ACLU of Maryland,Maryland State Conference of NAACP Branches, Somerset County Branch of the NAACP, NAACP Legal Defense And Educational Fund, Inc., Howard University School of Law Civil Rights Clinic, Prison Policy Initiative, and Dēmos.

In related news, a separate lawsuit (Little v. LATFOR) brought to challenge a New York law inspired by Maryland’s No Representation Without Population Act was dismissed on Friday by the NY State Supreme Court, upholding the validity of this important reform.

In the coalition amicus brief, the groups make clear that Maryland’s first-in-the-nation law requiring the state to count incarcerated persons at their home addresses is protective of minority voting rights. Although incarcerated persons are not allowed to vote, prison populations previously were used to pad the populations of districts that contained prisons. That practice diluted the vote of every Maryland resident who did not live near the prison complex in western Maryland, and had a particularly negative effect on African-American communities that experience disproportionate rates of incarceration.

Moreover, the No Representation Without Population Act simply has nothing to do with the core issues in the Fletcher case. The ability to create a third majority African American congressional district is not diminished in any way by allocating incarcerated persons to their home communities. In fact, the No Representation Without Population Act actually enhances the representation of most of the plaintiffs in the case, precisely because it properly credits the population of African-American communities.

Brenda Wright, Director of the Democracy Program at Demos, said: “The No Representation Without Population Act was designed to end distortions caused by counting incarcerated persons as members of communities to which they have no connection. Counting incarcerated persons at their home residence allows Maryland to draw accurate districts in line with the principle of one person one vote.”

Deborah Jeon, Legal Director for the ACLU of Maryland, said: “Before the No Representation Without Population Act, the voting power of African-American communities was literally being siphoned off through the criminal justice system and redirected to primarily rural areas. It is unconscionable to bring back the old system of using disenfranchised – and disproportionately African-American – prison populations to pad white electoral districts.”

Peter Wagner, Executive Director of the Prison Policy Initiative, and co-author of Importing Constituents: Incarcerated People and Political Clout in Maryland, said: “The State of Maryland should be saluted — not sued — for counting incarcerated people in the correct location.”

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New York Supreme Court Justice Eugene Devine today upheld New York's law ending prison-based gerrymandering in the Little v. LATFOR lawsuit.

December 2, 2011

Victory for Civil Rights, Fair Representation Removes Any Doubt That Redistricting Body Can Proceed Under New Law

For Immediate Release: Dec. 2, 2011

Please Contact:
Brennan Center for Justice Andrew Goldston (646) 292-8372
Center for Law & Social Justice April Silver (718) 756-8501
Dēmos Anna Pycior (212) 389-1408
LatinoJustice Madeline Friedman (212) 739-7581
NAACP Legal Defense Fund Mel Gagarin (212) 965-2783
NYCLU Michael Cummings (212) 607-3300 x368
Prison Policy Initiative Peter Wagner (413) 527-0845

Albany, NY – New York Supreme Court Justice Eugene Devine today upheld New York’s law ending prison-based gerrymandering in the Little v. LATFOR lawsuit. His decision squarely rejects the plaintiffs’ claim that the New York law violated various provisions of the New York State Constitution.

Attorneys for the fifteen voters from around New York State who joined the suit as intervenor-defendants issued the following joint statement:

By eliminating the political distortion caused by prison-based gerrymandering, the new law upheld by today’s decision will ensure fairer representation for all New Yorkers, starting with this year’s redistricting.

Judge Devine’s decision affirms what we have known from the beginning: the law ending prison-based gerrymandering advances fairness in redistricting and is in complete agreement with New York’s state constitution. Now that Justice Devine has made his decision, we look forward to seeing LATFOR implement the new law in the coming months.

The organizations representing the fifteen voters in court were the Brennan Center for Justice, the Center for Law & Social Justice, Dēmos, LatinoJustice PRLDEF, the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, the New York Civil Liberties Union, and the Prison Policy Initiative. In today’s ruling rejecting Plaintiffs’ legal challenge, the Court repeatedly cited the organizations’ arguments explaining the policies and legal precedent supporting New York’s law.

On Aug. 4, Judge Devine granted the fifteen voters permission to intervene and defend the law. The defendants in the lawsuit were government bodies charged with carrying out the new law: the New York State Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment (LATFOR), and the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS). The New York State Attorney General’s office is representing DOCCS.

The new law, known as “Part XX,” requires that incarcerated persons be allocated to their home communities for state and local redistricting and reapportionment but does not affect funding distributions. This tracks with the New York State Constitution’s explicit provision that incarceration does not change one’s residence.

New York State Senator Elizabeth Little and a group of co-plaintiffs sought to restore New York’s former practice, which artificially inflated the voting strength of select communities at the expense of all others by allocating incarcerated persons to the districts where prisons are located, rather than to their home addresses.

A recent Quinnipiac University poll reported that public opinion is against prison-based gerrymandering, with a majority of New York State voters agreeing that “prison inmates should be counted as residents of their home districts, not of where they’re imprisoned.” The poll found that majorities of voters from both parties, and majorities of both upstate and downstate voters, favored “counting inmates in their homes, not their prisons.”

About Prison-Based Gerrymandering

There are dramatic examples of prison-based gerrymandering in upstate counties and cities. For example, half of a council ward in the city of Rome, New York is incarcerated. As a result, the actual residents of that ward wield twice the influence of other city residents. Recognizing the distortions caused by prison-based gerrymandering at the local level, 13 New York counties with large prisons – including four in plaintiff Senator Little’s district – have historically exercised their discretion to remove the prison populations prior to redistricting.

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