City of Youngstown, Ohio, is poised to finally redistrict their 30-year old wards and avoid prison gerrymandering while they're at it.

by Aleks Kajstura, July 29, 2014

Youngstown, Ohio is poised to finally bring voting equality to its residents, after 30 years of inaction and a year of discussion.

The city has not restricted in over 30 years, and according to David Skolnick’s reporting at the Vindicator, “the population in the wards currently range from 7,227 to 12,130, using 2010 census numbers.”

This means that the votes cast by some residents are worth more than others’. Now the Council is redrawing the map to ensure that each ward has more or less the same number of residents, but the presence of several correctional facilities in the city is making that task harder than necessary. The Census Bureau counts incarcerated people as if they were residents of the prison location, even though they remain residents of their home addresses. Youngstown now joins over 200 other local governments around the country in coming up with a solution on their own.

And in the final plan under consideration, the city managed to avoid the pitfalls of prison gerrymandering, mostly:

Despite initial opposition from at least three of seven council members, this map doesn’t count the 2,071 prisoners at the Northeast Ohio Correctional Center on the East Side in the city’s population.

About 75 percent of that prison’s population is illegal immigrants convicted of federal felonies.

The board’s map does include 541 inmates at the Ohio State Penitentiary, also on the East Side, with nearly all its inmates being maximum-security prisoners not from Youngstown, and the 438 prisoners at the Mahoning County jail downtown, with a majority being city residents.

As Skolnick suggests, there is no logical reason why some of the prison populations should be counted as if they were residents of the location of the facility and while others not. Those in state custody are no more residents of the city than those serving their time in the federal facility. And even if some of the folks in the county jail are actual residents of the city, the chances that they’re all residents of the ward that the jail is in are slim.

Luckily, the number of incarcerated people in the state and county facilities is small enough that it’s unlikely to have a significant impact on the wards’ population equality. So when the Council votes on the new map in August, it’ll be taking a huge step in the right direction.

PPI joins 15 other civil rights and democracy organizations in endorsing 10 redistricting principles.

by Aleks Kajstura, July 10, 2014

We’re excited to have joined 15 other civil rights and democracy organizations in endorsing 10 Redistricting Principles for a More Perfect Union. The Principles, which include a renunciation of prison gerrymandering, serve as “baseline principles to inform redistricting in this decade and future decades, as well as to present a framework upon which to build possible reforms in coming years as we as a nation move toward that more perfect union”:

  1. Consistent with the requirements of the Constitution, all persons who reside in a state or local jurisdiction — regardless of age, citizenship, immigration status, ability or eligibility to vote — should be counted for purposes of reapportionment and redistricting. Districts should be populated equally, as defined by law, counting all residents as constituents to be represented by elected officials.
  2. The Census Bureau should continue to improve its outreach and data collection to ensure as full and accurate a count of all communities as possible, including a full and accurate count of the population by race, ethnicity, and national origin. Redistricting decision-makers should use legally-permitted population deviation among districts in state and local redistricting to serve legitimate redistricting considerations, including underpopulation of districts to ensure adequate representation of undercounted communities.
  3. Incarcerated or detained persons should be considered residents of their immediate pre-incarceration location or their family residence for purposes of reapportionment and redistricting. The Census Bureau should collect and release the data necessary to implement this principle in all jurisdictions.
  4. Compliance with the letter and spirit of the federal Voting Rights Act and its prohibition of vote dilution and of retrogression must remain a primary consideration in redistricting. While the elimination of racial discrimination in voting is a critical goal, that goal and the protection of civil rights are undermined by decision-makers who deny, without sufficient evidentiary proof, the continued existence of factors, including racially polarized voting, that support the creation of remedial districts under the Voting Rights Act. In light of long-established historical pattern, the prudent course, absent compelling evidence of changed circumstances, is for decision-makers to preserve extant remedial districts under the Voting Rights Act and to create new opportunity districts consistent with growth in relevant populations. Moreover, the requirements of the Voting Rights Act should be viewed as a floor, and not a ceiling, with respect to the voting rights of voters of color in redistricting. To advance these foundational goals, redistricting decision-makers should always make it a priority to exercise their considerable latitude within the law to create coalition and/or influence districts for voters of color where the creation of Voting Rights Act-compliant opportunity districts, in which voters of color comprise the majority of the voting-age population in a district, is not possible.
  5. Consideration of communities of interest is essential to successful redistricting. Maintaining communities of interest intact in redistricting maps should be second only to compliance with the United States Constitution and the federal Voting Rights Act as a consideration in redistricting.
  6. Transparency in redistricting is essential to a successful process. Meetings of decision-makers, among themselves or with legal and mapping consultants, must be open and accessible to the public in all but the most limited of circumstances.
  7. Full access requires the development and implementation of measures to facilitate public attendance and meaningful participation. This includes outreach, informational materials, and interpretation services provided in languages other than English where the constituency involved warrants the provision of such services. This also includes means to permit the participation of constituents in remote locations. All efforts must recognize that certain communities face greater barriers to full participation, and outreach, education, and weighting of input should reflect this recognition. Full access to the redistricting process must also include maximized opportunity for input and participation. This requires facilitating participation through the availability of data and equipment well in advance of the consideration of specific proposals. This also requires timely disclosure of proposed maps being voted upon to allow ample opportunity for public input before adoption. Finally, meaningful participation requires that the decision-making body demonstrate its due consideration of the public input provided.
  8. Public confidence in redistricting requires the decision-makers to reflect a broad range of viewpoints and be representative and appreciative of the full diversity of the population. Public confidence is furthered when relevant financial and other information about decision-makers and their paid retained consultants is disclosed. Fairness requires the development of clear conflict-of-interest criteria for disqualification of decision-makers and consultants.
  9. Public trust in redistricting requires disclosure of information about any relationships between decision-makers and significant non-decision-making participants. Transparency requires the avoidance of rules that provide an incentive for outside participants to conceal their relationship to incumbents or candidates for the offices being redistricted. Rules that require participants in the redistricting process to disclose information must be applied evenly.
  10. Accountability in redistricting requires public access to information about any non-public discussions of redistricting between redistricting decision-makers. This requires advance abrogation of any statutory or common-law legislative privilege that would protect such discussions of redistricting by decision-makers from disclosure during or after conclusion of the process.

Article explores prison gerrymandering in Alabama, highlighting problems in creating equal representation in city council wards and state legislative districts.

by Aleks Kajstura, July 1, 2014

The Anniston Star recently published a great article by Tim Lockette: Captive constituents: Prison population beefs up some Alabama districts.

Lockette explores how the Census Bureau’s decision to tabulate incarcerated people at the location of the correctional facilities impacts redistricting in Alabama:

article thumbnailWhen Talladega City Councilman Joseph Ballow goes up for re-election, he can be sure that more than a quarter of the residents in his ward won’t show up at the polls — because they’re behind bars.

One of five councilmen in this city of approximately 16,000, Ballow represents a 3,121-person ward that includes Talladega Federal Correctional Institution, a prison with 939 inmates.

“They can’t vote, they can’t carry a firearm, and I’m not interested in being their representative,” Ballow said.

Bellow’s attitude toward the folks incarcerated in his district is not unique, and it’s consistent with state law that says incarcerated people remain residents of their home address, and therefore constituents of the representatives of their home communities.

City and state officials say Talladega politicians typically see the prison as a burden.

“The question has always been, ‘Do we have to take it?,'” said Dawn Landholm, principal planner for the East Alabama Regional Planning and Development Commission, which has drawn district lines for many local cities, including Talladega’s ward lines after the 2000 Census.

Landholm said council members tend to feel cheated if they get a district that doesn’t include lots of actual registered voters. Council members have often asked if they can count only the voting-age population in drawing districts, she said.

“We’ve had to tell them they can’t just draw the district around voters,” Landholm said. “You have to take everybody.”

I agree with Landholm, districts should be based on actual population. And that means Talladega can follow the lead of over 200 local governments across the country that successfully avoid prison gerrymandering by removing the out-of-town-resident incarcerated population from their redistricting data. In fact it looks like some folks in town are already thinking about it:

Talladega City Manager Brian Muenger said he’s heard of other cities that discount the inmate population when drawing districts. He said he’d be open to proposing a similar option for Talladega.

The problem extends far beyond Talladega’s city wards. Prison gerrymandering impacts state legislative districts as well because the state replies on the same flawed Census data for redistricting:

The architect of Alabama’s post-2010 redistricting plan, Sen. Gerald Dial, R-Lineville, said the state did the best it could with the numbers it has.

Fair redistricting is hard enough without incarcerated populations being tabulated in the wrong place, so ideally the Census Bureau would change where it counts incarcerated people and provide states with redistricting data that reflects people at their actual home address. But in the meantime cities such as Talladega can adjust their redistricting data to exclude incarcerated populations, and Alabama can join California, Delaware, Maryland and New York by passing state-wide legislation to count people at home for redistricting purposes.

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