SACRAMENTO - Dale Ho, Assistant Counsel with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) testied today at a hearing before the California State Assembly's Committee on Elections and Redistricting, in support of AB 420, which seeks to end the practice known as "prison-based gerrymandering" in California.
California law—like that of every other state—provides that an incarcerated person does not become a resident of a community simply by being confined there. This rule comports with common sense: incarcerated persons do not choose the districts where they are confined.
They have no opportunities to interact with or develop enduring ties to the surrounding communities. And, of course, they cannot vote in those communities. They are not "constituents" of those districts in any ordinary sense of the word.
But during previous redistricting cycles, California has counted prison populations where they are incarcerated, rather than at their home addresses, which artificially inflates population numbers – and thus, political influence – in the districts where prisons are located, at the expense of voters living in all other districts.
"Prison-based gerrymandering violates the principle of one person, one vote enshrined in the United States Constitution," said Ho. "Election districts are supposed to be roughly equal in size, so that everyone is represented equally in the political process. But under the current system, your vote counts less if you don't live nearby a prison." With approximately 160,000 incarcerated persons, the proper counting of prison populations in California is critical to ensuring fair representation throughout the state.
Prison-based gerrymandering also results in a dilution of minority voting power. African Americans in California are incarcerated at a rate that is more than six times higher than that of whites. Together, African Americans and Latinos comprise 43.3% of the state's population, but are 68.3% of the state's prisoners.
Currently ten counties in California—including several counties represented by members of the State Assembly's Committee on Elections, such as Kern and Kings Counties—do not count prisoners as residents of the local community when drawing county commission districts. "What works at the local level for these counties should work equally well at the statewide level for all Californians," said Ho.
LDF, the nation's oldest civil rights law firm, is committed to the full and equal participation of all persons in our democracy, and urges the passage of AB 420.