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Press release/statement

Civil Rights Groups Take Stand for Maryland’s “Prisoners of the Census” Redistricting Law

BALTIMORE, MD – Today, a coalition of civil rights groups, including the Prison Policy Initiative, Demos, ACLU of Maryland, Maryland State Conference of NAACP Branches, Somerset County Branch of the NAACP, and others announced that they are preparing an amicus brief to defend the “No Representation Without Population Act” currently being challenged before a federal court in Fletcher v. Lamone, a lawsuit challenging Maryland’s Congressional redistricting plan. The brief will make clear that Maryland’s first-in-the-nation law requiring the state to count prisoners at their home addresses is protective of minority voting rights, and will decry the plaintiffs’ attempt to bring back the old system of using disenfranchised – and disproportionately African-American – prison populations to pad white electoral districts.

The plaintiffs in Fletcher raise seven civil rights and partisan gerrymandering claims. The civil rights groups preparing the amicus brief will urge the court to dismiss the three claims challenging application of the “No Representation Without Population Act”.

Passed and signed into law in 2010, the “No Representation Without Population Act” is civil rights reform that requires that state prisoners be counted in their home districts, not where they are incarcerated. It corrects discriminatory vote enhancement and ensures fair representation in legislative redistricting following the latest U.S. Census.

The “No Representation Without Population Act” corrects an unfair enhancement of voting power that a district with a prison receives by diluting the voting power of any district without a prison. The law’s impact has already been felt across the state. Before the law, one Maryland state legislative district’s population was 18 percent prisoners. As a result, four voting residents in this district had as much political influence as five residents elsewhere, because prisoners could not vote. The impact at the local level is even more pronounced.  In Somerset County, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, 64 percent of the population in one Commission district was made up of prisoners.  This meant a vote in that district was worth 2.8 times more than a vote in neighboring districts.  

The distortion of the election system through inclusion of non-voting prisoners has been a longstanding civil rights problem in Maryland, and its effects can be clearly seen in Somerset County.  There, over the course of decades, inclusion of prison in a majority-minority district meant that despite the County’s 42 percent African American population, no black official was ever elected until after the No Representation Without Population Act was passed.

Brenda Wright, Director of the Democracy Program at Demos, said: “The No Representation Without Population Act was designed to end distortions caused by counting incarcerated persons as members of communities to which they have no connection. Counting incarcerated persons at their home residence allows Maryland to draw accurate districts in line with the principle of one person one vote.”

Deborah Jeon, Legal Director for the ACLU of Maryland, said: “By enacting this vital civil rights law, Maryland took a giant step toward correcting unfair vote enhancement, and making fair representation possible in legislative redistricting. Democracy now has more meaning in Maryland, especially in a place like Somerset County, where African American voters may finally be heard in proportion to their numbers in the community.”

The No Representation Without Population Act is an important tool to solving these problems, and restoring the idea of “one person, one vote” to Maryland. 

Peter Wagner, Executive Director of the Prison Policy Initiative, and co-author of Importing Constituents: Incarcerated People and Political Clout in Maryland, said: “The State of Maryland should be saluted — not sued — for counting incarcerated people in the correct location.”

Gerald Stansbury, President of the Maryland NAACP, said: “The No Representation Without Population Act ensures that the one man one vote principle is meaningfully applied in Maryland by counting prisoners, who are not allowed to vote, in the district where they last lived. The new law brings us closer to fair representation of minorities throughout the State of Maryland."

Kirkland Hall, President of the Somerset County NAACP, said: “We respect the rights of all citizens residing in our county, including those at the prison, but allowing non-voting prisoners to distort the election system is just not fair.  Somerset County's inclusion of the prison in our past redistricting plans has proven to be an obstacle in our efforts to obtain elected minority representation. That's why we wholeheartedly support the ‘No Representation without Population Act.’”

The No Representation Without Population Act was supported by a strong coalition: ACLU of Maryland, Maryland State Conference of NAACP Branches, the Somerset County Branch of the NAACP, the Prison Policy Initiative, and DEMOS. The Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland played a key role in securing the bill’s passage, especially the leadership of bill sponsors Senator Catherine Pugh (D-Baltimore City) and Delegate Joseline Pena-Melnyk (D-Prince George’s).