Massachusetts Redistricting Committee plans ahead for 2021
With foresight and care, the current Massachusetts legislative districts can be the last ones that are distorted by the Census prison count.
by Leah Sakala, June 28, 2012
Even though the Massachusetts Special Joint Committee on Redistricting only last year released the new state legislative district maps, the members are already planning ahead for next decade. This afternoon, the Committee is holding a hearing to collect public feedback on the redistricting process in anticipation of their wrap-up report on how the redistricting process went and what they can improve for the next round of redistricting after the 2020 Census.
Prison Policy Initiative’s Executive Director, Peter Wagner, is there to present testimony he co-authored with Brenda Wright of Dēmos that details what the legislature can do to prevent prison populations from distorting the redistricting process next time around. Committee Co-Chair Senator Stan Rosenberg has already pointed to the problem of prison-based gerrymandering as one of the main issues to resolve moving forward.
A provision of the Massachusetts Constitution made it difficult for the Massachusetts legislature to pass a bill ending prison-based gerrymandering like the ones in Maryland, New York, Delaware, and California. But now, the Massachusetts legislature has the time to take concrete action to make sure that prison-based gerrymandering doesn’t continue to be a problem, and the Redistricting Committee’s wrap-up report is a perfect opportunity to start taking proactive steps.
As the testimony explains, the best solution would be for the Census Bureau to count incarcerated people at their home addresses in the 2020 Census, ending the issue of prison-based gerrymandering nationwide. Massachusetts can send the message to the Census Bureau that change is needed by documenting the way prison-based gerrymandering distorts state legislative districts, and by enacting a bill or resolution calling on the Census Bureau to count incarcerated people at home.
Also, Massachusetts can consider revising the state constitution to allow the legislature to adjust Census data for redistricting purposes, ensuring that prison populations do not add additional unwarranted political clout to the districts that contain them.
Massachusetts’s unique and forward-looking post-redistricting review process is a great opportunity to acknowledge and document the important progress that Committee on Redistricting has made towards ensuring fairness and transparency in the redistricting process. In addition to providing continuity over the decade between redistricting seasons, the report gives the legislature concrete goals to work towards for next time. With foresight and care, the current Massachusetts legislative districts can be the last ones that are distorted by the Census prison count.