October 6 -- A new report studying how college dorms are counted in the Census and used to draw legislative districts argues that students should be allowed to vote in local elections because these communities owe their political clout to the presence of the students.
"Local election officials across the country are constantly trying to limit or suppress the voting rights of college students," said Neal Rosenstein, an election specialist with the student-directed New York Public Interest Research Group. "This report lays out the benefits local communities gain from their student residents and the case for recognizing their rights once and for all," he added.
Actual Constituents: Students and Political Clout in New York, explains how state legislative districts are drawn, why they are drawn to contain equal numbers of people, why it makes good sense to include students at their college addresses as a part of legislative districts, and why students should be welcomed at the polls.
The report analyzed Census Bureau data to see how many college students are in each legislative district in New York, finding that in 11 Senate and in 18 Assembly districts, more than 2% of the district's population is students in dorms. The Assembly District that contains Ithaca College, Cornell University and SUNY Cortland has more than 13,000 students living in dorms.
"These are significant population numbers", said report author Peter Wagner, an Open Society Institute Fellow who studies Census policy and redistricting at the Prison Policy Initiative in Massachusetts. "The Census counts students at their college addresses because students are a willing part of that community. This swells the clout of college communities in Albany. When local officials discourage students from voting in legislative districts their presence helped create, they are violating the basic principles of democracy."
The Prison Policy Initiative is a Northampton Massachusetts based thinktank that sparked a national movement to change how the U.S. Census counts prisoners with a series of reports entitled "Importing Constituents: Prisoners and Political Clout". This report focuses on students as a similar population that some local officials, in this case wrongly, do not consider to be local residents.
The report, high-resolution maps of legislative districts, and tables with information about dorm populations in every legislative district in New York can be accessed at: http://www.prisonersofthecensus.org/students/
Peter Wagner, Assistant Director
Prison Policy Initiative
pwagner [at] prisonpolicy.org
Neal Rosenstein, NYPIRG