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New York Passes Landmark Legislation to End Prison-Based Gerrymandering

New York – Last night, the New York State Legislature passed a landmark piece of legislation to end prison-based gerrymandering. This bill comes on the heels of another important policy, passed and signed into law in June, intended to educate people with felony convictions about their right to vote in New York.

August 4, 2010

New York Passes Land­mark Legis­la­tion to End Prison-Based Gerry­man­der­ing

For Imme­di­ate Release, August 4, 2010
Contact: Jean­ine Plant-Chirlin, 212–998–6289

New York – Last night, the New York State Legis­lature passed a land­mark piece of legis­la­tion to end prison-based gerry­man­der­ing. This bill comes on the heels of another import­ant policy, passed and signed into law in June, inten­ded to educate people with felony convic­tions about their right to vote in New York.

Authored by Senator Eric Schnei­der­man and Assembly Member Hakeem Jeffries and suppor­ted by a broad, state-wide coali­tion, the legis­la­tion to end prison-based gerry­man­der­ing requires: the Depart­ment of Correc­tional Services to provide the legis­lature with the neces­sary inform­a­tion to determ­ine the home addresses for people in prison; and that people in prison be alloc­ated to their home communit­ies for redis­trict­ing purposes.

The second reform requires that crim­inal justice agen­cies provide voting rights inform­a­tion and voter regis­tra­tion forms to people who are newly eligible to vote after a felony convic­tion.

The Bren­nan Center draf­ted large portions of both pieces of legis­la­tion.

“These reforms stand to make aspects of our state govern­ment models for demo­cratic fair­ness and parti­cip­a­tion,” said Erika Wood, Director of the Bren­nan Center’s Right to Vote Project.

Currently, in New York people in prison are coun­ted in the federal Census where they are incar­cer­ated, rather than in their home communit­ies. This policy skews the demo­graphic char­ac­ter­ist­ics in both urban and rural locales through­out the state and has decim­ated the voting strength of poor and minor­ity communit­ies for decades. If signed into law, the bill to end prison-based gerry­man­der­ing would take effect in time for the next round of state redis­trict­ing, sched­uled to occur in 2011.

“For too long New York legis­lat­ive districts have been construc­ted on the backs of 'ghost voters,' pack­ing in pris­on­ers who coun­ted towards the district size but who were not permit­ted to vote. At the same time, the home communit­ies – to which the vast major­ity of incar­cer­ated people return – were severely under-repres­en­ted in our govern­ment,” contin­ued Wood. “Today the legis­lature assured that all communit­ies in New York have equal repres­ent­a­tion and an equal voice in our govern­ment.”

Both Mary­land and Delaware recently passed similar legis­la­tion.

Also under New York law, people convicted of a felony lose the right to vote while in prison and parole. People on proba­tion do not lose the right to vote. Once someone serves his maximum prison sentence or is discharged from parole, his right to vote is auto­mat­ic­ally restored. He need do noth­ing more than fill out a voter regis­tra­tion form like every­one else. Never­the­less, in 2005, research­ers found that nearly 30% of people with crim­inal convic­tions surveyed in New York thought they would never be eligible to vote again.

New York’s new law is the latest in a national trend. Twenty-four other states, and New York City, already require certain state and local agen­cies to inform people when their voting rights are restored follow­ing a crim­inal convic­tion.

“It is a simple, work­able policy that prom­ises to have a major impact in assur­ing success­ful rein­teg­ra­tion and reduced recidiv­ism,” Wood contin­ued.

For more inform­a­tion, see:

http://www.bren­nan­cen­ter.org/content/section/category/us_census_and_the_incar­cer­ated_people

http://www.bren­nan­cen­ter.org/content/resource/de_facto_disen­fran­chise­ment/

http://www.bren­nan­cen­ter.org/page/-/Demo­cracy/NY%20State%20Vot­ing%20FAQs%20up­dated%205–5–10.pdf

http://correct­thecount.org/

http://www.pris­on­policy.org/

and http://www.bren­nan­cen­ter.org/content/section/category/voting_after_crim­inal_convic­tion

or contact Jean­ine Plant-Chirlin at 212–998–6289 or jean­ine.plant-chirlin@nyu.edu.