New York Passes Landmark Legislation to End Prison-Based Gerrymandering

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Jeanine Plant-Chirlin, 212-998-6289

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.

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/

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.

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The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law is a non-partisan public policy and law institute that focuses on fundamental issues of democracy and justice. Our work ranges from voting rights to redistricting reform, from access to the courts to presidential power in the fight against terrorism.

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