The Co-Chairs of the Massachusetts Special Joint Committee on Redistricting today issued a report reviewing their accomplishments and their recommendations on issues they discovered while redrawing the Massachusetts district lines.
Senate Chair Stanley Rosenberg and House Chair Michael J. Moran devote about a quarter of their report to reviewing the vote dilution caused by the Census Bureau’s decision to tabulate incarcerated people as residents of the prison location instead of at their legal home addresses. The current system, the report observes, “inflates the relative strength of votes by residents in that district [containing a prison] at the expense of voters in all other districts in the Commonwealth.”
The co-chairs discuss the unique requirements of the Massachusetts constitution, noting that it would be theoretically possible to propose a constitutional amendment that would allow the state to end prison gerrymandering by state legislation. They conclude, however, that the “most expedient and streamlined avenue” towards a solution is for the Census Bureau to tabulate incarcerated people at their home addresses. Action at the Census Bureau would ensure a “systematic and consistent tabulation approach” that would relieve legislatures of the burden of each adjusting their own redistricting data.
The message is clear:
“The tabulation of prisoners should be at the forefront of Bureau priorities in evaluating and adjusting how the 2020 U.S. Census will be conducted.”
“We agree that the way prisoners are currently counted does a disservice to the state and should be changed.”
But the co-chairs did not intend the report to be the final word on the matter. The very first recommendation in the report is a call for the Massachusetts legislature to:
“Pass a resolution by the General Court requesting that the U.S. Census Bureau change the residency classification for counting prisoners at their legal residence prior to incarceration. The Legislature could consider a constitutional amendment in the event the federal government does not act on our recommendations.”