Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Con Law: One man, one vote. Sometimes.

An interesting story out of the Plattsburgh newspaper today mentions Chautauqua Co. It is (hopefully) common knowledge that legislative districts are drawn up by dividing geography by the number of people. If the county has, to make up numbers, 100,000 people and 10 districts, then lines are required to be drawn in such a way that each district has roughly 10,000 people. Or so the simple version says--case law and various statutes make it a shade more complex.

The issue addressed in the story, fairly common each ten years in the state following the census when districts are redrawn, is how to count certain populations. Persons in institutions of one sort or another are the most common dispute. In short, if 10,000 people from Queens are incarcerated in St. Lawrence County, where do you count them? Prisons are the point of the article, but long term care facilities also raise the issue, and in some places colleges have been in question.

The problem with prisons (and certain long term facilities) is that the residents can't vote. The result is a disparity in the power of each person's vote. A district of 10,000 people may actually contain 5,000 voters, for example. When compared to another district of 10,000 people, each of those 5,000 is exercising more influence with their vote.

Round numbers aside, this has been a serious issue is in state redistricting for years. Prisons were championed by the late Sen. Stafford as a northern New York economic development tool. When you watch "Law and Order" and someone cops a deal rather than going "upstate", they are referring to Gouverneur or Malone and Dannemora, in St. L., Franklin and Essex Counties, respectively. The State Senate majority, more than the Assembly, could lose several seats if prisoners were not counted as residents of upstate counties.


Blogger marylee said...

Very Interesting...thanks for the summary of how redistricting I will know more when the issue comes up at election time and I'm sure it will.

So does this mean if I live in a district with a prison, or long term care facility my vote has more to say?

9:49 AM  
Blogger TM said...

I'm not good at explaining it, but basically, yes. The easiest way to say it, for me, is that instead of your legislator having to listen to 10,000 voices, he only has to listen to 5,000. It's not the best explanation, but it gives an idea.

11:25 AM  

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