New York law wins praise around the state
by New York Times editorial board, August 23, 2010
Gov. David Paterson of New York took a stand for electoral fairness earlier this month when he signed legislation that bans prison-based gerrymandering — the cynical practice of counting prison inmates as “residents,” to pad the size of legislative districts. The new law, which requires that prison inmates be counted at their homes, deserves to be emulated all across the country.
Prison-based gerrymandering mattered little when inmate populations were small. But by the 1990s, when more than a million people nationally were behind bars, lawmakers had perfected the art of inflating the political clout of underpopulated areas by drawing legislative districts around prisons.
More than a dozen New York counties with large prisons already take inmates out of the count when they draw districts for county offices. According to an analysis by the Prison Policy Initiative, a New York-based research group, seven New York State Senate districts could now have trouble meeting federal population requirements, which means that those districts will have to be drawn along different lines.
The new law could lead to a political realignment in places like Rome, the upstate city where inmates at the Mohawk and Oneida correctional facilities make up about half the residents of one City Council district. Currently each resident there has twice the voting power of a resident who lives elsewhere in that city.
Republican politicians who represent upstate prison districts have predictably tried to portray the new law as a power grab by New York City Democrats. But only about half of the nearly 60,000 people held in New York prisons come from the city while nearly 40 percent of inmates are from upstate areas. They will now be rightfully counted in the places they come from — and to which they will eventually return. By upholding the principle of one person, one vote, the new law will benefit citizens in all parts of the state.
Other coverage of this victory for fair representation includes:
- The Times-Herald Record (Orange County) editorialized Balance of power changing in NY, as did the Albany Times Union Prison politics in a new light.
- Will Doolittle wrote a staff blog column for the Post-Star in Glens Falls (Warren County): Counting Correctly
- There has been a lot of discussion in Hudson, NY and in the North Country about how the real positive impact of the law will be in rural counties that have large prisons. For example, see David Sommerstein’s North Country Public Radio story: Inmates to be excluded from North Country districts
- And finally, The Daily Review in Towanda Pennsylvania, (an hour southwest of Binghamton, NY), was inspired by the New York law to editorialize: Prison-based gerrymandering should be abolished
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