Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Funny that only now have they 'discovered' this glitch:

Another key to why Republicans are overrepresented politically:

counting inmates transfers voting power.

a glitch in the census that inflates the populations of some state legislative districts - thus exaggerating their voting power - has led to a contemporary version of that problem. It involves counting prison inmates in the district where they are confined rather than where they actually live....

The culprit is a provision in the census that counts prison inmates as "residents" of the institutions where they are held, often for relatively short periods of time. Denied the right to vote in all but 2 of the 50 states, the inmates are nonetheless treated as voters when the State Legislatures draw up legislative districts. This practice mattered little 30 years ago, when the prison population was tiny. But with about 1.4 million people in prison today, it can be used to shift political power from one part of the state to another.

A startling analysis by Peter Wagner of the Prison Policy Initiative found seven upstate New York Senate districts meeting the population requirements only because inmates were included in the count. The Republican Party in New York relies on its large upstate delegation for its majority in the State Senate - and for its political power statewide. New York is not alone. The Prison Policy Initiative's researchers found 21 counties nationally where at least 21 percent of so-called residents lived behind bars.

The two states that allow inmates to vote are Maine and Vermont, by the way.

Now, most prisons are located in smaller, largely rural communities. This means that these communities can substantially inflate their population count for the census. That creates smaller districts, or in other words a larger number of rural districts. And, as we know, New York is not at all unusual in terms of having a lot of Republicans living in rural counties.

By counting these nonvoting inmates as residents, the prison counties offend the principle of one person one vote, while siphoning off political power from the home districts to which the inmates will return as soon as they are released. Since inmates are jobless, their presence also allows prison districts to lower their per capita incomes, unfairly increasing their share of federal funds earmarked for the poor.

This is the other side of the coin. A disproportionate share of inmates come from inner city areas. They are not counted where they live, so the population count of these areas goes down. Therefore, the boundaries of urban districts have to be expanded outwards, meaning that there are fewer of them. And as we know, these districts are often more likely to be Democratic. And another result that we see here-- federal and state formulas are set up which cause funds to follow the prisoners. This means that cities are getting the shaft as development, education and other funds which should go there are diverted to those rural areas which have prisons. Now I will concede that this isn't necessarily as much of a windfall as it sounds for the rural districts--- there is a prison in Winslow, for example, and it does attract some people to town (such as families of long term convicts who stay in motels for several weeks at a stretch) who, for want of a better way of putting it, probably require the city to spend more on police and other services. However, if funding is needed to address this issue, then it should be provided up front-- not by stealing it from an inner city.

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