The principle of ‘one person, one vote,’ is a sacred component of our democracy in the United States. But, here in New York, when it comes to counting people in prison, representation is anything but equal.

Last Thursday (January 28th), we kicked-off a new campaign to end prison-based gerrymandering, the undemocratic system for using people in prison to inflate population counts.

At the campaign kick-off, Rev. Al Sharpton said that this is “the voter rights and civil rights issue of the year in the state of New York.”

Here’s the problem: right now, the US Census Bureau counts people in prison as being residents of the area in which they are incarcerated.

While New York’s constitution (Article II ยง4) states that incarceration will not change a person’s residence, the State still uses the Census numbers for the purposes of drawing legislative district lines, effectively denying fair representation to the communities where most people in prison come from: specifically urban areas and communities of color.

That’s why we’re working with a coalition of organizations from across the State of New York to pass legislation to end this practice. The legislation, sponsored by Senator Eric Schneiderman in the Senate and Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries in the Assembly, will use Department of Correctional Services data to amend the Census population counts used for redistricting. Because the legislation doesn’t change how the Census actually counts people, and instead changes how the Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment uses Census data to draw district lines, this won’t affect any state or federal funding for any community that is tied to Census data. It will, however, correct the decades old injustice of giving certain communities more representative power at the expense of others.

13 upstate counties that have large prison populations have already rejected the Census counts when it comes to county-level redistricting. Essex County didn’t use the Census counts when they drew districts for their Board of Supervisors. They gave this explanation:

“Persons incarcerated in state and federal correctional institutions live in a separate environment, do not participate in the life of Essex County and do not affect the social and economic character of the towns… The inclusion of these federal and state correctional facility inmates unfairly dilutes the votes or voting weight of persons residing in other towns within Essex County…”

On Monday (February 1st), we held a press conference in the Capitol in Albany to announce new support for the bill from upstate legislations Senators Antoine Thompson and Neil Breslin and Assemblyman Jack McEneny.

With the 2010 Census already underway, and New York’s redistricting process just around the corner in 2012, now is our chance to finally end the distorted system of representation in New York and restore the fundamental principle of ‘one person, one vote.’