LATFOR Comes to North Country
For Immediate Release:
Contact: Susan Lerner
November 2, 2011
LATFOR Comes to North Country
Common Cause Reiterates Opposition to Prison Based Gerrymandering. Due to Total Population Gains, Loss of Prisoners Will Have Minor Impact on Redistricting
At the North Country hearing of LATFOR (Legislative Task-Force on Research and Reapportionment), Common Cause NY urged legislators to keep communities of interest whole, and reject prison based gerrymandering.
The North Country region (defined as Jefferson, Lewis, St. Lawrence, Franklin, Hamilton, Clinton, Essex, Warren, and Northern Herkimer Counties) is the most rural in New York State, dominated by the mountain geography of Adirondack State Park. However, the population has actually increased by 9% since the 2000 census.
The two major issues in the North Country are:
– Prison based gerrymandering
– Population growth in Congressional District 23
“The redistricting process should be about recognizing real communities of interest rather than creating false ones out of the prison population. The North Country needs meaningful and sustained economic development to support its growing population, and a redrawing of congressional lines to geographically unify the region, not a distortion of our democratic election process,” said Susan Lerner, Executive Director of Common Cause NY.
Prison Based Gerrymandering
In the North Country there are 13,243 incarcerated persons, most of whom reside in Clinton and Franklin Counties (Clinton Correctional Facility, Bare Hill Correctional Facility, Franklin Correctional Facility). However, according to Chapter 57, Part XX of the Laws of 2010, the practice of prison-based gerrymandering may not be employed in the 2010 redistricting cycle. Prisoners must be enumerated at their address prior to incarceration.
Since the region has gained 9,904 residents, the total net loss of population will only be 3,339 residents, or 0.7%, compared to the last redistricting cycle. The re-enumerating of incarcerated people to their home communities instead of their prisons will not have a major effect on redistricting in the North Country.
Senator District 45 (Betty Little) has a large majority of the North Country’s prison population and remains the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit to enumerate prisoners in their county of incarceration. However, it would not be difficult to make minor adjustments to pick up additional population and still have a district that covers the eastern half of the North Country.
It is similarly easy to make adjustments to Assembly Districts 113 (Sayward-R) and 114 (Duprey-R) in order to compensate for the loss of incarcerated people.
Chapter 57, Part XX of the Laws of 2010 only covers state-level redistricting and will have no effect on Congressional apportionment.
The North Country is divided awkwardly into three Congressional districts: NY 20, 23, 24.
Assemblymember Ken Blankenbush (R), who represents AD 122 in the western portion of the North Country, has argued at previous LATFOR hearings that the North Country is a distinct community with different interests and priorities than the regions to the south. Our analysis supports Assemblymember Blankenbush’s views and we believe that a unified North Country Congressional district should be drawn.
NY 20 (Gibson-R) forms an “L” shape and extends all the way from the Catskills and Hudson River Valley into the eastern portion of the North Country. NY 23 (Owens-D) occupies most of the North Country but extends to the south at Fulton County and far to the south across Oneida Lake into the whole of Madison County. NY 24 (Hanna-R) extends up from the Finger Lakes region into Herkimer County.
There is no basis in demographic data or communities of interest for any of these district shapes. Congressional districts in Upstate New York should be drawn on a regional basis to connect communities of interest. Instead of two districts extending into the North Country from very distinct regions to the south, and a North Country-based district extending all the way into the completely unrelated Madison County, it is possible to draw a single district for the whole of the North Country region.
Common Cause is a leader in redistricting reform around the nation. Common Cause California wrote and helped to pass the Voters First Initiative in California in 2008 which set up the first Citizens’ Redistricting Commission in the U.S. which is currently in the process of drawing new political boundaries transparently and with public input. Common Cause Minnesota helped pass a referendum in Minneapolis that removes political parties from the redistricting process by having a judge appoint members of the redistricting commission. Common Cause strongly supported and helped pass the Fair Districts Florida initiatives in 2010 that set new rules for redrawing legislative and congressional lines which prohibit drawing districts to favor or disfavor an incumbent or political party.