Board of Supervisors
Prisoners no longer count in Groveland’s population
In recent times, New York state law had defined the place of residence for prisoners to be the place where they were locked up. Convicts are denied the right to vote by state law, but are still counted as residents of the rural communities that host their prisons.
As “imported constituents” their numbers still have political value. They can be maneuvered in redistricting and counted for the purposes of funding programs. They also increase the relative weighted vote of a township containing a prison among its fellow townships in a county legislative body.
Because most prisons are upstate, the policy has tended to drain downstate areas of constituents to the advantage of upstate communities hosting prisons.
However, a new state law now specifies that as “unwilling sojourners,” prisoners should be counted where their interests lie: at home. And like children and non-citizens, they are entitled to political representation at home.
The new law has been challenged in court by Republican members of the New York State Senate and has been upheld. The opponents have reportedly now given up their intention to pursue an appeal.
“The law says that no person can gain or lose a residence because of their incarceration in an upstate prison facility,” Livingston County Attorney David Morris explained.
Morris added that the U.S. Census still counts prisoners residing in the prison, but the new state legislation essentially counts them — for constituency purposes — at home.
The Livingston County Board of Supervisors has deliberately held off from calculating its new 2010 Census apportionment of weighted votes in the 17 towns while the court case was being decided. With the issue now resolved, Morris anticipates that a new weighted vote schedule — based upon the 2010 census numbers and the new prisoner home residency — will be adopted by the supervisors and placed into use sometime this summer.
The prisoner residency change impacts only a single Livingston County township, but does so severely.
The Town of Groveland, home to the Livingston County and Groveland New York State Correctional Facilities, has a total of [1393 + 860 = ] 2,253 prison beds. Not all are always occupied, but when they are even near capacity, prisoners comprise two-thirds of Groveland’s population.
In round numbers, Groveland has about 1,000 native citizens to about 2,000 prisoners.
Between 2000 and 2010 Groveland’s population declined from 3,853 to 3,249, the largest population loss in any Livingston County town. The loss can be generally attributed to a decline in the prison inmate population.
Population is the major element, but not the only element, in the formula for apportioning a town’s weighted vote.
Consequently, Groveland, whose 107 weighted votes places it between Lima (125) and York (90) in the hierarchy of voting influence, can be expected to slip into the lower tier of voting towns occupied by the likes of West Sparta (34), Portage (24) and Ossian (21).