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CONTACT: Brennan Center for Justice
Jeanine Plant-Chirlin, 212-998-6289
New York Passes Landmark Legislation to End Prison-Based Gerrymandering
NEW YORK - August 4 - 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.
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