by Aleks Kajstura, September 14, 2012

The governor of California just signed a bill (AB 1986) into law that improves California’s historic law ending prison based gerrymandering.

The LA Times has some coverage of the new bill along with some of the other bills signed.

Campaign stops bring candidates through cities and counties that struggle with prison-based gerrymandering in many different ways. State legislation sends a clear signal to local governments to end the pernicious practice.

by Leah Sakala, September 13, 2012

Everyone seems to have elections on the brain as November 6th grows nearer, and the candidates are jetting around the country on the campaign trail trying hard to address the issues that concern the American people. But one electoral issue has been conspicuously absent from the candidates’ discourse: prison-based gerrymandering.

Because prison-based gerrymandering is a systemic problem that stems from a combination of antiquated Census Bureau policy and the rise of mass incarceration, the harmful effects can be found throughout the country. And although many struggles with prison-based gerrymandering don’t gain public attention, the candidates’ campaign stops reflect a wide range of approaches that state and local governments use to address the issue. The contrast between two recent presidential campaign stops — the cities of Hobbs, New Mexico and Golden, Colorado— highlight the critical role that state legislation plays in fixing the problem.

Mitt Romney recently stopped in Hobbs, New Mexico, where city officials redrew the six City Commission districts last year in order to balance the population in each districts. But although the district populations looked even upon local officials’ careful analysis, every four District 5 voters ended up with as much political clout as a group of five voters in every other district. Why? Because the districts are based on unadjusted Census Bureau data, which included the more than 1,000 people confined in the Lea County Correctional Facility located in District 5.

In Golden, Colorado, on the other hand, where President Obama made a campaign stop earlier today, the presence of a large correctional facility doesn’t compromise any resident’s access to local government. This is because the city proactively excluded the incarcerated population from the data they used to redistrict. If they had not, every group of three residents that live near the prison would have had as much political clout as a group of four residents in any other district.

While both Hobbs and Golden were technically and legally able to fix the problem of prison-based gerrymandering, Golden had one major benefit that Hobbs did not: state legislation that sends a clear message that the problem must be addressed. Colorado law requires counties to draw fair districts by excluding the prison populations and basing their population adjustments on the actual county residents. With this strong precedent from the state legislature, Colorado cities that contain large prisons have followed suit.

So, one thing that the people of the United State need to consider as we follow the candidates around the county is: how are prison populations impacting our right to equal access to government? There’s a growing number of states that are taking a stand by passing legislation to abolish prison-based gerrymandering in both state and local governments. How many more states will step up the plate and join that trend during the next presidential term?

Once again, ten California counties with large prison populations avoided prison-based gerrymandering when redrawing their board of supervisors' districts.

by Hillary Fenton and Aleks Kajstura, September 13, 2012

Last year, California became the 4th state to pass legislation ending prison-based gerrymandering for state legislative redistricting. Unlike the Maryland and New York laws, which apply to state legislative, county and municipal redistricting, the California law applies only to state legislative redistricting. But even though the law doesn’t extend to local governments, many are taking action on their own.

As part of my summer law clerkship with the Prison Policy Initiative, I set out to determine how California counties with large prisons have traditionally addressed the problem of prison-based gerrymandering.

I discovered that the same ten counties that the Prison Policy Initiative identified as having avoided prison-based gerrymandering after the 2000 Census did so again after the 2010 Census. These are the 10 counties with the proportionally largest prison populations, so engaging in prison-based gerrymandering would have created the largest distortions of representation.

When I was determining which California counties avoided prison-based gerrymandering, for the most part I had to analyze redistricting maps and data to calculate whether the prison populations were included or excluded in the district populations. However, I came across four counties that, in their redistricting documentation, were explicit in their removal of prison populations to prevent prison-based gerrymandering.

For example, the Imperial County redistricting committee declared in a report that they decided to leave out the prison population early on in the redistricting process. In support of their decision, the committee pointed out that many California counties choose to exclude and also cited a 1991 California Attorney General opinion supporting their decision.

Similarly, the counties of Del Norte, Monterey, and Kings were also explicit in avoiding prison-based gerrymandering. In Del Norte County, the county clerk’s analysis of 2010 Census population information for the redistricting committee showed that the incarcerated population was subtracted from the “net population for redistricting purposes.” In Monterey County, the citizen’s redistricting committee expressed their decision to exclude prisoners in a report to the county supervisory board. And in Kings County, the supervisory district map published on the county website states that the given populations do not include the county’s incarcerated population.

Other counties that excluded the prison populations to avoid prison-based gerrymandering were Lassen County, Amador County, Tuolumne County, Madera County, Kern County, and San Luis Obispo County.

I found four counties, each with proportionately smaller prison populations than the counties discussed above, that included the prison populations when drawing districts and therefore diluted the votes of all county residents who do not live next to the prison. These counties were Solano County, Marin County, Modoc County, and Santa Barbara County.

Three of those counties have proportionally small prison populations compared to the population of individual districts, and the vote enhancement from prison-based gerrymandering ranged from 4% to 10%.

Including the prison populations in redistricting data had the highest impact in Solano County, where District 4 was drawn to contain the 8,649 people incarcerated at the 4 largest correctional facilities in the county. So the Solano County Board of Supervisors gave the actual residents of District 4 11% more influence than people in other county supervisor districts.

Solano County is of note because the county actually discussed avoiding prison-based gerrymandering. Citing an absence of guidance from the state, the Board of Supervisors chose to include the prison populations because that is what they had done in past decades.

Solano struggled with the issue of counting prison populations in April of 2011. Then six months later, the state passed a law to count incarcerated people at home for the purposes of drawing state legislative districts. With a clear trend in the State to move away from using prison populations to distort districts, Solano now has compelling guidance to make the right choice in 2021.

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