Unconstitutional: Prison-Based Gerrymandering Violates New York’s Constutition and the Supreme Court

Posted by on Apr 1, 2010 in Blog | 1 comment

The New York State Constitution

The New York State Constitution, under Article II S.4, states that “no person shall be deemed to have gained or lost a residence, by reason of his or her presence or absence…while confined in any public prison.”

Currently, several State Senate districts that host prisons are drawn based on inflated population numbers. This creates a heavy cost and detriment to fair representation. Furthermore, the current practice violates the Supreme Court’s ruling that districts must be drawn so that they represent an equal number of citizens.

Both the Supreme Court ruling and our State Constitution recognize the dangers of drawing legislative districts based on undemocratic contortions of Census data. Voters in other districts across the state see their representation diluted. In other words, their votes basically carry less weight, and less political power.

Allow me to draw an example that is commonly found in states that allow prison-based gerrymandering:

A city-council race is won by just a handful of votes. ¬†Examining the voting data and the “city” population, we notice ¬† that this “city’s” prison population is far higher than those not in prisons. With people in prison not having the right to vote while incarcerated, this “city’s” elections are determined by a far smaller number of citizens than a city of comparable population. The effect can be carried to the county and both state and federal legislative districts.

To cite an actual case, a candidate in Anamosa, Iowa won election to the “City” Council with a total of only two votes–from his wife and a neighbor! Guess what?: 1,300 of the 1,400 persons constituting the “City” Council district were incarcerated at Iowa’s largest penitentiary. So really only 100 people determined this “City” Council district.

In essence, the votes of members of this “City” Council district carry much more weight in proportion to other City Council districts in Iowa. What we have is a conscious decision to violate the principle of “one person, one vote” that ensures equal voting power.