Last week,a judge heard oral arguments on whether a law requiring New York State prisoners to be counted where they lived prior to being incarcerated for the purposes of redistricting should be upheld. Senate Republicans, who brought the suit, could really use a ruling against the law. Tens of thousands of upstate prisoners have helped boost predominantly rural areas population numbers. The effect has been more upstate seats, held mostly by Republicans.
But until a ruling is handed by the judge in the case—which could be as least as two months from now—LATFOR is bound by the law to draw lines that count prisoners in their communities. All those involved say they’re committed to following the law. That includes Republican Senator Michael Nozzolio, who, in a September 30 letter to the other members of the committee, said LATFOR should “immediately begin” the technical process of correctly identifying which prisoners should be counted where.
The thing is that Nozzolio’s colleagues in the State Assembly, according to documents, have already finished the process, and have submitted the geocoded prisoner database to the LATFOR committee. The Senate Republicans have known their Assembly colleagues have been working on complying with the law since at least the August 10 LATFOR meeting in White Plains, when a representative for the Assembly discussed where they were at in the process with Nozzolio.
A few weeks later they finished, producing documents that detail how they were able to identify 70 percent of prisoners out of the 58,000 in the state could be counted. The other 30 percent were either out-of-state prisoners, Federally incarcerated, or had invalid address for whatever reason.
That was the Friday before Labor Day. Weeks later Nozzolio issued his letter without a mention of the work done by the Assembly. In fact, looking at the letter, it could be read to suggest the Senator is calling for the process to start all over again.
But, as people testifying at LATFOR meetings have noted, the entire process is under both a compressed time frame and a tremendous amount of uncertainty. There’s the Federally mandated—and currently being litigated—requirement that New York move its primary date up in time for overseas service members to mail back ballots. When you add the promised veto by Governor Cuomo, the potential law suits, the time needed before deadlines for candidates to get on the ballot, and a picture of chaos begins to emerge.
With all this uncertainty it’s interesting that Nozzolio and the Senate Republicans—who have the most to lose from prisoner reapportionment—are saying they’ll conform to the law, but in practice aren’t taking the easy road. There doesn’t seem to be any actions accompanying Nozzolio’s letter from last month. A key member of LATFOR wasn’t present at the last public hearing, meaning any discussion about the reallocation process won’t happen until—at the earliest—at the October 27 meeting in Old Westbury.
I reached out to Nozzolio’s office a bit ago to find out why the Senator didn’t mention the work done by Assembly Democrats and to find out what, exactly, would impede his colleagues in the Senate from accepting their methodology. I’ll post their response.
After the jump are the Assembly's documents describing the process they used for reallocating prisoners.