Redistricting Madness

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A joint legislative panel has begun the challenging work of redrawing the state’s district lines following the 2010 census. The first meeting of the Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment took place last week, with the governor threatening to veto the redistricting if the lines were not fairly drawn.

A change introduced last year and now being challenged will benefit the state’s urban areas. In the past, prisoners were counted as residents of the districts in which they were held. This gave a decided advantage to Republicans representing upstate districts, where most of the state’s prisons are, even though a majority of the inmates in these prisons lived and committed their crimes in New York City.

Last summer, then-Gov. David Paterson approved a measure under which prisoners would be counted in their homes districts. This will cause the rural upstate districts to lose seats. Currently, there are 57,000 state and federal prisoners counted as residents of the districts in which they are incarcerated. A group of state Senate Republicans has brought suit in the Albany County Supreme Court challenging the Paterson plan.

We see no reason why the court should rule in favor of upstate Republicans. These counties already benefit from the prisons, which generate thousands of jobs for correction officers and support staff. In addition, there are hundreds of businesses that provide support services for prisons.

Some may question why the prisoners are counted at all. After all, they cannot vote until they have completed their sentence. The answer is simple: Despite their incarceration, they are citizens of New York state and absorb a substantial amount of the state’s limited tax dollars. The state spends more for one year of incarceration for one inmate than 12 years of public education.

LATFOR must complete the redistricting by a March 2012 deadline. We have a great many concerns about the fairness of the process, concerns shared by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. But the revision in the way prisoners are counted falls on the side of fairness. Queens should benefit from this reasonable change.

Updated 11:30 am, October 12, 2011
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