Big line shift likely

Michael Gianaris

September 06, 2011

Prison-based gerrymandering is illegal and must not be used when redrawing district lines. The Times-Union wrote about a study conducted by the State Assembly which counts prisoners at there home address for purposes of redistricting.

ALBANY -- Several Senate districts in upstate New York would lose more than 5,000 constituents, according to newly analyzed data that may guide district lines.

The datasets, released Monday by Assembly Democrats, change Census figures normally used to draw districts for the Senate, Assembly and Congress so as to count prison inmates at their last known address -- not in their cells.

The analysis was done pursuant to a 2010 state law. Senate Republicans opposed that measure when it was adopted, and some argue in a pending lawsuit that it violates the state constitution. Politically, moving the inmates favors urban, mostly downstate, mostly Democratic districts at the expense of upstate, mostly rural, mostly Republican districts.

In the closely divided Senate, the district lines are of particular import. They are drawn by LATFOR, a legislative task force, once every 10 years. Republicans currently control that chamber, and the new data show just how large the shift is.

The target district size is around 312,000 people. The district represented by Sen. Patrick Gallivan, R-Elma, would lose 7,119 constituents. The district of Sen. Betty Little, R-Queensbury, would shrink by 11,610 people. She is the lead plaintiff on the lawsuit, and says inmates should be counted where they use services -- that is, where they are incarcerated.

"This is where their carbon footprint is. This is where they're living, just like a person in a college dormitory or a nursing home. I think it's extremely political that they were taken out just for the purposes of redistricting," she said. "If I have to expand, I'll expand. I already have the largest district with six complete counties."

Democrats say they are following the line. They argue the old rules disenfranchised urban communities -- dominated by racial minorities -- by deflating their power. The revised counts show districts in upper Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx grow by over 1,000 people. There are also gains in districts comprising Buffalo and Rochester.

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