NYCLU Applauds State Legislature for Ending Prison-Based Gerrymandering

August 4, 2010 —  The New York Civil Liberties Union today praised the State Legislature for including in the budget a provision that ends the practice of prison-based gerrymandering – inflating the population of electoral districts with prisons in them by counting incarcerated people where they are confined, not where they are from.

“We applaud the State Legislature for including in the budget the important provision that will restore the principle of one person, one vote that is fundamental to our democracy,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “The strength of your vote shouldn’t depend on if your legislative district contains a prison or not, and the passage of this provision brings fairness to voting in New York.”

The U.S. Census Bureau currently counts incarcerated people where they are confined, not where they were living before they were incarcerated, even though the vast majority of people return home when they are released. In New York, politicians have taken advantage of this to inflate their districts’ population numbers with prisoners. As a result, New Yorkers living near prisons get disproportionate representation in Albany, weakening the votes of people who do not live near prisons.

Though some have claimed that the budget provision that ends prison-based gerrymandering will take needed funding away from communities near prisons, there is no truth to this claim. This provision has no effect on how census numbers are used to distribute federal funding. The count will only be used only for drawing district lines correctly.

“Our state’s system for drawing legislative districts has been fundamentally unfair for far too long. By counting incarcerated people where they were confined, not where they were from, the system has artificially padded the populations of districts with prisons while weakening the vote of every other New Yorker,” Lieberman said. “The Legislature today stood up for fairness. Now Governor Paterson has a chance to put himself on the right side of history. When he signs this provision, the governor will leave an important legacy for all of New York State.”