Common Cause Connecticut and the Prison Policy Initiative update their fact sheet about prison gerrymandering in Connecticut.

by Peter Wagner, February 26, 2014

thumbnail of fact sheet about prison gerrymandering in Connecticut

We’ve updated our fact sheet about prison gerrymandering in Connecticut, produced with Common Cause Connecticut. The fact sheet summarizes the findings of our 2013 report Imported “Constituents”: Incarcerated People and Political Clout in Connecticut:

  • Although almost every town in Connecticut had residents incarcerated elsewhere on Census Day, the majority of the state’s prison cells are in 5 small towns: Cheshire, East Lyme, Enfield, Somers, and Suffield.
  • The majority-white residents of 7 State House districts got significantly more representation in the legislature because each of their districts included at least 1,000 incarcerated African-Americans and Latinos from other parts of the state.
  • For example, State House District 59, (Enfield) claimed more than 3,300 African Americans and Latinos as constituents. But 72% of the African Americans and 60% of Latinos were not actually residents of the district, but rather were temporarily incarcerated in the Enfield, Willard and Robinson Correctional Institutions.
  • The dilution of African-American and Latino political power was not limited to the 59th district: 86% of the state’s prison cells are located in disproportionately white house districts.

The fact sheet is also available on our Connecticut campaign page.


Three bloggers weigh in on the lawsuit filed yesterday to end prison gerrymandering in Cranston, RI.

by Leah Sakala, February 20, 2014

Yesterday we filed a lawsuit in partnership with Lynette Labinger of Roney & Labinger LLP and our colleagues at Demos and the ACLU Voting Rights project on behalf of the ACLU of RI and residents from the City of Cranston to combat extreme prison gerrymandering in the City Council and School Board districts. Here are a few great blog posts on the case:

  • ACLU Voting Rights Project Staff Attorney Sean Young cleverly illustrates why Cranston’s insistence on engaging in prison gerrymandering was particularly bad news for local residents:

    Imagine that you were treated as three-fourths of a person in every aspect of your daily life. When you want to binge-watch House of Cards on Netflix, you’re only allowed to watch the first three-fourths of the season. When you buy a cup of Starbucks coffee, you get three-fourths of a cup. When you get a paycheck, you’re paid three-fourths of what your coworkers are paid. And when you go into the polling booth to cast your vote, your vote is only counted as three-fourths of a vote.

    While the above illustrations are fictional, the last one is a reality for most of the voters in Cranston, Rhode Island. […] when Cranston residents from Wards 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 cast their votes in local elections, their votes are now worth only three-fourths of the same vote cast by someone from Ward 6.

  • Our long-time friend, colleague, and advisory board member Bruce Reilly also wrote a nice piece, pointing out that Rhode Island lawmakers could do their part by passing legislation to ensure that prison gerrymandering doesn’t skew democracy in the future:

    There is a reason that districts should be of similar population size, and its about ten people’s voices being the equivalent of ten people’s voices when making large decisions. Unless those people locked up in the ACI start getting their voice in the discussion, they are being used to puff up the district.

    Some states have already passed laws that eliminate this problem. Of course, if Rhode Island did so, the lawsuit would be moot.

  • Cranston isn’t the only local government that’s dealing with the implications of the Census Bureau’s prison count methodology. Residents in Walpole, Massachusetts, for example, are watching this suit closely to see what happens:

    In Walpole, the current town charter, based on the interpretation of the town’s legal counsel, counts prisoners at MCI-Cedar Junction as residents of Precinct 5, giving that precinct more political clout in Town Meeting. A recent report from the Prison Policy Initiative suggests that Town Counsel could use a different interpretation of the charter to stop counting inmates.

    If the Cranston suit succeeds, Walpole could face an expensive legal suit if the current practice of counting Cedar Junction prisoners continues. Selectmen should move full speed ahead with changing the charter to address this inequity, or use a different interpretation as suggested by the PPI.

We’ll be posting updates here on the Prisoners of the Census Blog as this case evolves, and you can also find case documents, coverage, and more on our Davidson v. City of Cranston case page. Stay tuned!


Cranston's 2012 redistricting plan for the City Council and School Committee violates the one person, one vote principle of the U.S. Constitution.

February 19, 2014

Plan violates ‘one person, one vote’ principle of the U.S. Constitution

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Contact:
Steven Brown, ACLU of Rhode Island, riaclu@riaclu.org, 401 831-7171
Alex Amend, Dēmos, aamend@demos.org, 917-822-7405
Aleks Kajstura, Prison Policy Initiative, akajstura@prisonpolicy.org, 413-527-0845
Inga Sarda-Sorensen, ACLU National, media@aclu.org, 212-549-2666

CRANSTON, R.I. — Local residents joined the ACLU of Rhode Island today to sue the City of Cranston, charging that the 2012 redistricting plan for the City Council and School Committee violates the one person, one vote principle of the U.S. Constitution by counting incarcerated people in their prison location as if they were all residents of Cranston.

Because those incarcerated were counted as Cranston residents, three voters in the prison’s district have as much voting power as four voters in every other city district, according to Census Bureau data. Cranston residents Karen Davidson, Debbie Flitman, Eugene Perry, and Sylvia Weber have joined the ACLU of Rhode Island as plaintiffs in the case. They are represented in federal court by Dēmos, the Prison Policy Initiative, and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Plaintiff Davidson said today: “As a long-time resident and taxpayer of Cranston, I am deeply concerned that the City Council decided in 2012 to perpetuate this voting inequity, especially after the ACLU pointed out the constitutional problems with it. It is time for city officials to show some leadership and stop wasting taxpayers’ money defending themselves from legal challenges like this.”

The 2012 redistricting plan counted the population of Rhode Island’s only state prison complex, the Adult Correctional Institutions, as residents of Ward 6 even though the overwhelming majority of these individuals are not true residents of the district, but instead remain residents of their pre-incarceration community for virtually all legal purposes, including voting.

“Using the people incarcerated at the ACI to pad the resident population of Ward 6 is not only irrational, but also unconstitutional. Over 200 municipalities and counties across the country actively avoid this ‘prison gerrymandering’ when redistricting,” said Aleks Kajstura, Legal Director at the Prison Policy Initiative. “There is no reason for Cranston to give extra representation to a select group of residents just because they happen to live near a prison.”

According to Census Bureau data, without the incarcerated population, Ward 6 has only 10,209 true constituents. Yet those constituents now wield the same political power as the roughly 13,300 constituents in each of the other wards. This dilutes the voting strength and political influence of citizens residing outside of Ward 6, in clear violation of the Equal Protection requirements of Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

“The people incarcerated in Cranston cannot vote in local elections, visit with their elected officials, or use the public library,” said Adam Lioz, Demos counsel. “So, they should not be used to pad districts, skewing voting power in violation of the one person, one vote principle. The City Council should do the right thing and correct its redistricting process.”

“All the voters of Cranston should have an equal say in who their elected officials should be. When a citizen exercises their fundamental right to vote, they expect that their vote will be counted equally, not as if it were only three-fourths of another citizen’s vote. Cranston elected officials should stop playing games and restore fairness to the democratic system,” said Sean Young, staff attorney with the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project.

ACLU of Rhode Island executive director Steven Brown said, “In 2012, the ACLU testified before the City Council and urged members to draw district lines in a way that would protect the principle of ‘one person-one vote.’ More than 200 counties and municipalities facing prison gerrymandering have pro-actively addressed the problem. It is unfortunate that the Cranston City Council refused to do so, leaving us no choice but to file this lawsuit.”

The complaint, Davidson v. City of Cranston, was filed in U.S. District Court in Rhode Island. A copy of the complaint is here: http://www.prisonersofthecensus.org/davidson/complaint.pdf

The lawsuit is being handled locally by ACLU of RI volunteer attorney Lynette Labinger, who only two years ago in a highly-publicized case successfully sued Cranston officials over the display of a prayer banner in a high school auditorium.

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Bills to end prison gerrymandering get committee hearings in Rhode Island and New Jersey. NJ bill passed out of committee, RI voting soon.

by Aleks Kajstura, February 14, 2014

This week the New Jersey and Rhode Island state legislatures held hearings on their respective bills to end prison gerrymandering.

On Monday, the New Jersey Assembly Judiciary Committee held a hearing on Assembly Bill 659. After receiving testimony from the ACLU and PPI, the bill was successfully reported favorably out of committee.

The next day, Rhode Island’s Senate Bill 0147 was up for discussion before the Rhode Island Senate Committee on Judiciary. We submitted testimony in support of the bill and expect the committee to vote on the bill soon.



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