LOS ANGELES - The California State Legislature is receiving praise for passing legislation to end prison-based gerrymandering.
The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) consulted on the drafting of this legislation and advocated for its adoption.
"Because California's incarcerated persons are disproportionately people of color, with African-Americans and Latinos comprising 70 percent of the state's prisoners but only 40 percent of its overall population, the current counting of incarcerated persons at their place of incarceration, rather than at their pre-arrest residence, severely weakens the voting strength of entire communities of color," said John Payton, LDF President and Director-Counsel. "Fortunately, California took an important step in the right direction in curing this problematic practice."
Assembly Member Mike Davis sponsored the bill that will help bring California's redistricting process in line with basic principles of democracy, and will serve as a model for other states in the effort to count incarcerated populations correctly in the next round of redistricting.
During the current redistricting cycle, California counted prisoners where they are incarcerated, a practice known as "prison-based gerrymandering." Prison-based gerrymandering artificially inflates population numbers – and thus, political influence – in districts where prisons are located, at the expense of all other districts.
This practice violates the principle of "one person, one vote" enshrined in the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which requires that election districts be roughly equal in size, so that elected officials each represent the same number of constituents.
With approximately 140,000 incarcerated persons in California, the proper counting of incarcerated individuals is critical to ensuring fair representation throughout the state.
"We urge Governor Brown to sign this legislation into law, and to encourage other states to enact similar legislation before the next redistricting cycle begins," said Dale Ho, Assistant Counsel in LDF's Political Participation Group. "Moving forward, the Census Bureau should ease the burden on state and local governments by changing its enumeration methods to count prisoners in their home communities in the next decennial census."