Colorado has become the eighth state to end prison gerrymandering, meaning prisoners will be counted for redistricting purposes at the last place they lived instead of at the site of their incarceration.
Gov. Jared Polis signed that switch into law last week after the bill was passed by his fellow Democrats in control of the General Assembly. New Jersey passed similar legislation earlier this year, and nearly a dozen other states are considering bills, according to the Prison Policy Initiative's Prison Gerrymandering Project.
Proponents of the change say counting people where they are imprisoned when drawing congressional, state legislative and local government districts unfairly shifts power to rural districts at the expense of urban areas where a majority of the prisoners are from.
Sam Wang is a professor of neuroscience at Princeton, where he's been on the faculty 14 years and focuses on how the brain processes sensory, cognitive and emotional information. But he's also part of the university's Program in Law and Public Affairs. He created the Princeton Election Consortium in 2008 to come up with statistical models for predicting presidential and Senate results based on polling. And after the last nationwide redistricting, in 2012, he created the Princeton Gerrymandering Project. Today he and his seven-member team run a website that permits voters to use mathematical models to decide if where they live is in an unfairly skewed legislative or congressional district. His answers have been edited for clarity and length.
What's the tweet-length description of your organization?
Combining data, tech and law to help citizens make district lines fairer and eliminate bugs from democracy.
Kresky is an attorney in New York. He wrote this piece for Independent Voter News.
I recently had the pleasure of watching "Slay the Dragon," Barak Goodman and Chris Durrance's stunning documentary on the fight against partisan gerrymandering in Michigan and Wisconsin. It played before a full house at Betaworks Studios in lower Manhattan.
The film tracked parallel efforts in the courts and on the ground. In Wisconsin a group of Democratic Party activists put together a high-powered legal team to sue in federal court, arguing that in 2011 the Wisconsin legislature enacted a redistricting scheme that disadvantaged Democrats. The measure of the disadvantage was the disparity between the vote statewide for Democratic Party candidates and the number of seats the party won in the state legislature in 2012. The case succeeded in the lower courts but was reversed by the Supreme Court on the grounds that the plaintiffs lacked standing.
Across Lake Michigan, Katie Fahey put together a grassroots effort to place a referendum on the ballot to establish a non-partisan redistricting commission. Fahey, a political novice, launched her campaign with a Facebook post asking others who thought gerrymandering unfair to join in doing something about it. The documentary takes us from the "kitchen table" drafting of the language of the initiative; to the approval of the ballot language by the Board of State Canvassers; to the statewide volunteer petition drive that netted 425,000 signatures; to an effort to block the initiative in court that failed when the Michigan Supreme Court voted 4-3 to allow it on the ballot, to the on-the-ground campaign that won a majority of 60 percent at the polls in November 2018.
Update: The Virginia House cleared the measure Friday night, 54 to 46, assuring a statewide referendum vote in November.
While the world of democracy reform holds its collective breath about Virginia, which is just one day from a do-or-don't deadline for ending partisan gerrymandering, campaigns to combat such behavior got underway this week in two more states.
The way political district boundaries get drawn has come under intense scrutiny in recent years, with a steadily expanding campaign to give the task to independent outsiders rather than politicians interested only in preserving their own power. This spring's census, which will provide the population numbers mapmakers must use, has magnified the issue yet again.