ACLU, NAACP Celebrate Passage of “Prisoners of the Census” Redistricting Legislation
April 13, 2010
ACLU, NAACP Celebrate Passage of "Prisoners of the Census"
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 13, 2010
CONTACT: Meredith Curtis, ACLU of Maryland, 410-889-8555; email@example.com
ANNAPOLIS, MD - Hailing the passage of fair election districting legislation that will finally fix an important civil rights challenge, the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland and the NAACP today thanked the many members of the General Assembly who advocated and voted for the "No Representation Without Population Act." Senate Bill 400/House Bill 496 requires that prisoner populations be counted in their home districts, not where they are incarcerated. The legislation was signed by Governor Martin O'Malley today.
"Today, Maryland takes a step forward to correct unfair vote enhancement and ensure fair representation in future rounds of legislative redistricting," said Cynthia Boersma, Legislative Director for the ACLU of Maryland. "With the U.S. Census now underway, this year was the time to make such an important pro-democracy reform."
The legislation corrects an unfair enhancement of voting power that a district with a prison receives at the expense of the dilution of voting power of any other district without the prison. One Maryland state legislative subdistrict's population is 18% prisoners. This means every group of four residents in this district has as much political influence as five residents elsewhere, even though prisoners cannot vote. The impact at the local level is even more pronounced. In one county district in Maryland, 64% of its population is prisoners. This means a vote in this local district is worth 2.8 times more than a vote in neighboring districts.
This issue has been a longstanding civil rights problem in Somerset County, where the placement of a prison inside a majority-minority district has ensured that despite the fact that the county is 42% African American, no black candidate has ever been elected to a top position in Somerset County government. In February, the ACLU and the NAACP wrote to Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler to make the case for why it is advisable to exclude the non-voting inmate population of Eastern Correctional Institution (ECI) from the population count when the county next undertakes redistricting of its election system for county offices.
"This new law holds great civil rights promise for Somerset County," said Kirkland J. Hall, Sr., President of the Somerset County Branch of the NAACP. "We believe that with the passage of this bill, democracy will have more meaning, because counties like Somerset will finally be able to achieve elected representation that better reflects our population."
The legislation was authored by the ACLU, who joined with a strong coalition to advocate for its passage: the Maryland State Conference of NAACP Branches, the Somerset County Branch of the NAACP, the Prison Policy Initiative, and DEMOS. The coalition would especially like to thank the Legislative Black Caucus, the leadership of bill sponsors Senator Catherine Pugh (D-Baltimore City) and Delegate Joseline Pena-Melnyk (D-Prince George's), and the support of Senators Lowell Stoltzfus (R-Somerset, Wicomico, Worcester) and Donald Munson (R-Washington).