New York’s Former Governor David Paterson signed into law groundbreaking legislation that corrects the ills of the redistricting process concerning the counting of prisoners. The legislation signed by Paterson places into law a revamped process for counting prisoners in their home districts instead of districts where the prison or housing unit is located.
Recently, nine Republican State Senators filed a lawsuit challenging the ban on prison-based gerrymandering, which inflates the population of an electoral district by counting inmates as residents of the district, as opposed to counting inmates at their residence before incarceration.
The way in which prisoners were counted before the Paterson-signed legislation increased the amount of votes cast at the cost of those districts without prisons. For example, New York State Senator Betty Little has 13 prisons in her district.
“Senator Betty Little filed suit this week to revive a legal fiction, claiming that individuals imprisoned in her district are members of the local community and should be counted there when it comes to drawing state and local legislative districts. Senator Little’s attempt to inflate the population of her district with more than 10,000 incarcerated, non-voting residents from other parts of the state will dilute the votes cast in all other districts.” said Peter Wagner, Executive Director of the Prison Policy Initiative.
Seven of the New York State Senate Districts only meet minimum population standards after counting prisoners as residents.
The only state’s to change the way prisoners are counted in 2010 were New York, Maryland and Delaware.
Donna Lieberman, the Executive Director of the New York Civil Liberties Union said of the New York legislature,
The Legislature stood up for fairness and the democratic principle of one person, one vote by banning prison-based gerrymandering last year. Counting incarcerated people as residents of counties in which a prison was located for purposes of establishing election districts inflated the political power of upstate, largely white rural prison communities, while diminishing the political power of the urban, black and Latino communities from which persons were sent to prison.
Elected in 2010, current New York Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo’s current plan to close the state’s $10 Billion Dollar budget gap includes creating a task force that would recommend closing state prisons. Without knowing which facilities would be impacted, Gov. Cuomo has asked the legislature to approve a state budget with $72 Million in savings from prison closures.