Could Prisons Factor Into Redistricting?

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By Chris Bragg

A memo being circulated by Todd Breitbart, a Democratic redistricting attorney expert who has worked closely with the Senate Democrats, states that the proposed redistricting constitutional amendment released late last night would bring back prison-based gerrymandering.

In 2010, the practice, which had counted prison inmates in the largely upstate communities where they were held, rather than in the downstate communities where many of those inmates hailed from, was ended through legislation passed by the Democratic-controlled Senate. The Senate Republicans, who have since regained the majority, sued to overturn the law, but eventually dropped the litigation.

But Breitbart says the constitutional amendment, as proposed, would get rid of the 2010 law abolishing prison-based gerrymandering:

The amendment would reverse the one significant reform of New York legislative redistricting since the one-person-one-vote decisions of the 1960's ? the end of prison-based gerrymandering.

The reform enacted in] 2010 specifically requires LATFOR to create a database in which inmates of state and federal prisons have been subtracted from their places of incarceration, and reallocated insofar as possible to their prior home addresses. LATFOR is further required to use the adjusted database in recommending Senate and Assembly districts to the Legislature.

The prisoner subtraction-and-reallocation law is in the Legislative Law, Section 83-m, Subsection 13, which would be completely superseded by the proposed amendment. The amendment abolishes LATFOR, but does not impose the prisoner subtraction-and-reallocation rule upon the new commission or the Legislature. It thus repeals the rule, and brings back prison-based gerrymandering.

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