Oregon has a situation — prison gerrymandering — that, in theory, should be easily solved. But understanding this taxonomy of problems helps explain why the last attempt at a solution failed — the diffuse benefit to all was outweighed by the forces of inertia.
The major reason that prison gerrymandering should be easy to address is that it is already illegal, in that our primary law, the Oregon Constitution, forbids it. It’s telling that, even with the Oregon Constitution prohibiting prison gerrymandering, it persists, and survived an effort by some Oregon senators to abolish it in 2015.
Section 4. Residence. For the purpose of voting, no person shall be deemed to have gained, or lost a residence, by reason of his presence, or absence while employed in the service of the United States, or of this State; nor while engaged in the navigation of the waters of this State, or of the United States, or of the high seas; nor while a student of any Seminary of Learning; nor while kept at any alms house, or other assylum [sic], at public expence [sic]; nor while confined in any public prison.
First, the voting residents in the “receiving” districts — the ones that house the prisoners — get an unearned boost in their voting power, as they are apportioned more legislators than they should be, thanks to the phantom, non-voting prisoners.
Second, the opposite result occurs in the “sending” districts — the ones who lose residents to prison sentences served outside the district. Thus, not only are prisoners rendered unable to vote while incarcerated, but their home communities have diminished voting power relative to the “receiving” districts where the prisons are built. This is a significant factor in helping perpetuate the enormous racial disparities in the criminal justice system in Oregon.
Senate Bill 331 (2015) died in the Senate Rules Committee:
The following summary is not prepared by the sponsors of the measure and is not a part of the body thereof subject to consideration by the Legislative Assembly. It is an editor’s brief statement of the essential features of the measure.
Directs Department of Corrections to determine last-known address of inmates in custody of department, if address is readily known or available to inmate, and submit information to Secretary of State. Directs secretary to adjust population data reported in federal decennial census to reflect residence status of inmates before incarceration.
Requires Legislative Assembly or Secretary of State, whichever is applicable, to reapportion state into legislative districts based on adjusted population data. Requires use of adjusted population data to apportion county or municipal boundaries.
A BILL FOR AN ACT
Be It Enacted by the People of the State of Oregon:
SECTION 1. Sections 2 and 3 of this 2015 Act are added to and made a part of ORS 188.010 to 188.295.
SECTION 2. (1) As used in this section:
(a) “Date of the census” means the date for which the federal decennial census reports population.
(b) “Inmate” means a person committed to the physical and legal custody of the Department of Corrections.
(c) “Last-known address” means a residential address, other than a department facility, at which an inmate resided before incarceration.
(2) The Department of Corrections shall by rule adopt an electronic filing system to record the following information for each inmate sentenced to the custody of the department on or after the effective date of this 2015 Act:
(a) The last-known address of the inmate, if the address is readily known or available to the inmate.
(b) The inmate’s race and ethnicity.
(c) Whether the inmate is over the age of 18 years.
(3) Not later than May 1 of the year of the federal decennial census, the department shall submit to the Secretary of State:
(a) A unique identifier for each inmate incarcerated on the date of the census.
(b) The address of the facility in which the inmate is incarcerated on the date of the census.
(c) All information recorded for each inmate under subsection (2) of this section.
(4) Not later than 14 days after publication of census redistricting data for this state by the United States Census Bureau, the Secretary of State shall:
(a) For each inmate determined to have a last-known address within this state:
(A) Determine the geographic units for which population counts are reported in the federal decennial census that contain the address of the facility of incarceration and the last-known address of the inmate;
(B) Adjust all relevant population counts reported in the federal decennial census as if the inmate resided at the inmate’s last-known address on the date of the census; and
(C) Remove the inmate from any population count reported in the federal decennial census for the geographic units that include the facility of incarceration.
(b) For each inmate whose address is not known or not in this state:
(A) Adjust all relevant population counts reported in the federal decennial census as if the inmate resided at an unknown geographic location within this state on the date of the census.
(B) Ensure that the inmate is not represented in any population count reported in the federal decennial census for the geographic units that include the facility of incarceration for the inmate on the date of the census.
(5) The adjusted population data prepared by the Secretary of State under this section shall be the population data used by the Legislative Assembly or the Secretary of State, whichever is applicable, when apportioning the state into legislative districts. Residents of unknown geographic locations within this state or at residences not in this state may not be used to determine the average population of any geographic unit for purposes of apportioning the state into legislative districts.
(6) The Secretary of State shall request that each federal facility of incarceration located in this state submit the information described in subsection (2) of this section regarding each person incarcerated in the facility.
(7) The Secretary of State by rule shall prescribe a form to be used to submit information to the secretary as required by this section.
(8)(a) Except as otherwise provided in this section, any information provided to the Secretary of State under this section is confidential. The name of each inmate for whom information is submitted to the secretary under this section may not be linked to the information submitted. Each inmate’s name is confidential and may not be disclosed, except that the information may be aggregated by geographic unit for the purpose of apportioning the state into legislative districts as described in this section.
(b) The unique identifier described in subsection (3) of this section may not:
(A) Indicate any identification number otherwise used for the inmate; or
(B) Allow any person, other than the Department of Corrections, to associate address with an inmate.
SECTION 3. (1) The adjusted population data prepared by the Secretary of State under section 2 of this 2015 Act shall be the population data used to apportion county or municipal boundaries. Residents of unknown geographic locations within this state or at residences not in this state may not be used to determine the average population of any geographic unit for purposes of apportioning county or municipal boundaries.
(2) The adjusted population data prepared by the Secretary of State under section 2 of this 2015 Act shall be used only when apportioning the state into legislative districts and as described in subsection (1) of this section, and shall not be used for any other purpose.
Testimony of Peter Wagner Executive Director Prison Policy Initiative
Before the Oregon Senate Committee on Rules on SB331
March 10, 2015
Thank you, Chairperson Rosenbaum and members of the Committee for providing the opportunity to submit testimony in support of Senate Bill 331.
I am an attorney and Executive Director of the Massachusetts-based Prison Policy Initiative. For the last decade, we have been leading the national effort to urge the Census Bureau to count incarcerated people as residents of their legal home addresses. At the same time, we work closely with state and local governments to develop interim solutions to the Census Bureau’s prison count to avoid the vote dilution that results from tabulating incarcerated people in the wrong location.
Before the Committee today is SB331, which would correct the harmful effects of a long-standing flaw in the decennial census for Oregon. The Census Bureau tabulates incarcerated people as residents of the wrong location. Drawing districts based on Census Bureau counts that credit incarcerated people to the census blocks that contain prisons, rather than the census blocks that contain their their homes, results in a significant enhancement of the weight of a vote cast in districts with prisons, while diluting the votes cast by all other residents in all other districts in the state.
By passing SB331, Oregon would ensure that the vast majority of Oregonians do not, relative to those who live near large prisons, have their votes diluted. By passing this bill, Oregon will join the national trend towards solving this problem by counting incarcerated people at home for redistricting purposes.
This practice of counting incarcerated people as residents of the prison location distorts political power in Oregon in violation of both the federal constitutional principle of “one person one vote” and the state constitutional definition of residence.
The Supreme Court requires that states update their districts once per decade, ensuring that each district contains the same number of people and each resident has equal representation in state government. But the Census Bureau counts incarcerated people where they are imprisoned, not where they legally live. When prisoners — who aren’t allowed to vote and remain legal residents of their home communities — are included in the redistricting population counts for the prison’s location, the political clout of every person who doesn’t live in a district with a large prison is diluted.
For example, the Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution located in Umatilla County accounts for 28 percent of a Pendleton city council ward, giving every 3 residents of the ward with the prison the political power of 4 residents in other parts of the city. A similar, although smaller, effect is also seen among state legislative districts.
Incarcerated people come from all over Oregon but they are counted by the Census Bureau as if they were residents of 18 Census blocks that contain prisons. Relying on this federal data to draw districts directly contradicts the state constitution’s definition of residence in Article IV §4:
“For the purpose of voting, no person shall be deemed to have gained, or lost a residence … while confined in any public prison.”
By passing SB331, Oregon will follow New York, Maryland, Delaware and California [FN1] in drawing fair districts that tabulate incarcerated people at home for redistricting purposes. [FN2]
A total of eight states, and more than 200 counties and municipalities, listed in the Appendix, have enacted legislation to eliminate or reduce the effects of the Census Bureau’s prison miscount.
Maryland and New York both passed their laws after census day 2010 but with just enough time to implement the laws before the current round of redistricting. The experience of these two states, working under tight deadline pressure to successfully address the Census Bureau’s prison miscount, provides powerful evidence that the adjustments proposed by SB331 can be accomplished in time for the 2021 redistricting. By passing SB311 in this legislative session, the legislature would allow ample planning time to ensure smooth and effective implementation in the next redistricting cycle.
I urge you to pass SB331 as a permanent state-based solution to the conflict between the Census Bureau’s prison miscount and the definition of residence in the Oregon state constitution.
Please do not hesitate to contact me if I can answer any questions or help provide you with additional resources on the successful implementation of the comparable laws in Maryland and New York. [FN3]
I thank you for the opportunity to present this testimony.
Executive Director Prison Policy Initiative
69 Garfield Ave Floor 1
Easthampton MA 01027
[FN1] The laws of both states ending prison gerrymandering were upheld in the courts. New York’s law was upheld in state court (Little v New York State Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment No. 2310-2011 slip op. (NY Sup Ct. Dec. 1, 2011)) and Maryland’s law was affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court Fletcher v. Lamone, U.S. , 2012 WL 1030482 (June 25, 2012) affirming No. RWT-11cv3220 slip op. (D. Md. Dec. 23, 2011). The decisions and documents from both cases are archived at http:// www.prisonersofthecensus.org/fletcher/ and http://www.prisonersofthecensus.org/little/ .
[FN2] In addition, Massachusetts, where a restrictive state constitutional clause prohibits that state from passing similar legislation, instead passed a resolution in August 2014 calling for the Census Bureau to count incarcerated people at home nationwide. A number of other states have legislation similar to SB331 pending, and on March 4, the Rhode Island Senate unanimously passed its version of this legislation, S 0239.
[FN3] – 3 Also helpful on this topic is Erika Wood, Implementing Reform: How Maryland & New York Ended Prison Gerrymandering, Dēmos, August 2014 available at http://www.demos.org/publication/implementing-reform- how-maryland-new-york-ended-prison-gerrymandering
States and local governments are taking action to end prison gerrymandering
Last updated: April 29, 2014
California – Passed legislation to count incarcerated people at their homes of record for state legislative districting. (2011 & amended in 2012) (Cal. Elec. Code § 21003)
Colorado — Passed legislation to prohibit counties from engaging in prison gerrymandering. (2002) (Colo. Rev. Stat. §§ 30-10-306 and 30-10-306.7)
Delaware — Passed legislation to count incarcerated people at their homes of record for state legislative districting. (2010 & amended in 2011) (Del. Code Ann. Tit. 29, § 804A)
Maryland — Passed legislation to count incarcerated people at their homes of record for congressional, state legislative, county and municipal redistricting. (2010) (Md. Code Ann., Elec. Law § 8-701, Md. Code Ann., State Gov’t §2-2A-01, and Md. Code Ann., Art. 24 Political Subdivisions – Miscellaneous Provisions § 1-111)
Michigan — Passed legislation to prohibit counties and cities from engaging in prison gerrymandering. (1966) (Mich. Comp. Laws §§ 46.404(g)) and 117.27a(5))
New Jersey — Passed legislation to prohibit some school boards from engaging in prison gerrymandering. (1967) (N.J. Stat. Ann. § 18A:13-8)
New York — Passed legislation to count incarcerated people at their homes of record for state legislative, county and municipal redistricting. (2010) (N.Y. Correct. Law §71(8), N.Y. Legis. Law § 83-m(13), and N.Y. Mun. Home Rule Law § 10(1)(ii)(a)(13))
Virginia — Passed legislation amending an unusual statute that required counties, cities and towns to engage in prison gerrymandering. (2001, amended in 2012 & a 2013) (Va. Code Ann, § 24.2-304.1)
In addition, more than 200 counties and municipalities across the country, without an explicit requirement from their state, are known to refuse to engage in prison gerrymandering, including:
Alabama counties: Escambia
Alabama cities: Brent, Town of Clayton, Columbiana, Wetumpka
Arizona cities: Douglas
Arkansas counties: Hot Spring, Lee, Lincoln, St. Francis Arkansas cities: Forrest City, Malvern
California counties: Amador, Del Norte, Imperial, Kern, Kings, Lassen, Madera, Monterey, San Luis Obispo, Tuolumne.
Colorado cities: Brighton, Cañon, Centennial, Golden, Sterling Connecticut towns: Cheshire, Enfield
Florida counties: Bradford, Franklin, Gulf, Lafayette, Madison, Okeechobee, Washington
Georgia counties: Butts, Calhoun, Dooly, Johnson, Macon, Stewart, Tattnall, Telfair, Washington, Wilcox
Georgia cities: Claxton, Glennville, Gray, McRae, Ocilla
Illinois counties: Bond, Christian, Crawford, Fayette, Fulton, Jefferson, Lawrence, Lee, Livingston, Montgomery, Rock Island, Will
Illinois cities: Canton, Chester, Crest Hill, Danville, East Moline, Galesburg, Jacksonville, Pontiac, Robinson, St. Charles
Indiana counties: Vigo
Indiana cities: Crown Point, Terre Haute
Kentucky counties: Casey, Elliott, Lee, Marion, McCreary, Morgan, Oldham Kansas counties: Leavenworth
Kansas cities: Lansing
Louisiana parishes: Avoyelles, Caldwell, Clairborne, Concordia, East Carroll, East Feliciana, Evangeline, Grant, Iberville, La Salle, Richland, West Carroll, West Feliciana, Winn
Louisiana cities: Town of Amite City, Oakdale Maine school districts: MSAD 40 (Knox County)
Maryland counties: Somerset
Maryland cities: Baltimore
Michigan counties: Branch, Gogebic, Saginaw
Mississippi counties: Adams, Greene, Sunflower, Tallahatchie
Mississippi cities: Holly Springs, Lucedale
Missouri counties: Cole, Pike, Randolph
Missouri cities: Bonne Terre, Clayton, Farmington, Hillsboro, Jefferson, Licking, Tipton, Vandalia
Nebraska counties: Johnson New Jersey cities: Camden
New York counties: Cayuga, Clinton, Dutchess, Essex, Franklin, Genesee, Greene, Oneida, Orleans, Seneca, St. Lawrence, Westchester
New York cities: Beacon, Brookhaven (town) North Carolina counties: Caswell,
Ohio cities: Lima
Oklahoma counties: Alfalfa, Blaine, Greer, Holdenville, Hominy, Woods Oklahoma cities: Lawton, Town of McLoud, Sayre, Watonga
South Carolina counties: Allendale, Edgefield, Lee, Marlboro, McCormick South Dakota: Bon Homme
Texas counties: Anderson, Bastrop, Bee, Bowie, Brazoria, Brown, Burnet, Cherokee, Childress, Concho, Coryell, Dawson, DeWitt, Dickens, Duval, Fannin, Freestone, Frio, Garza, Hale, Haskell, Houston, Howard, Jack, Jones, Karnes, Kinney, La Salle, Live Oak, Madison, Medina, Mitchell, Pecos, Potter, Reeves, Rusk, Terry, Walker, Wichita, Willacy
Texas cities: Big Spring, Brownfield, Bryan, Henderson, Huntsville, Karnes City, Mineral Wells, Post, Victoria
Texas school districts: Fort Stockton Independent School District, Marlin Independent School District
Virginia counties: Brunswick, Greensville, Lee, Prince George, Richmond, Sussex
West Virginia cities: Moundsville
Wisconsin counties: Crawford
Wisconsin cities: Baraboo, New Lisbon, Portage, Prairie du Chien, Stanley
To: Senate Rules Committee
From: Kate Titus, Common Cause Oregon
Re: Support for SB 331
Common Cause supports SB 331 to count prisoners for the purposes of redistricting in the communities where they are residents, rather than where they are imprisoned.
Common Cause is a nonpartisan organization that works to safeguard and improve the democratic process. For 45 years, the organization has helped strengthen public participation and faith in our institutions of self-government, and has worked to ensure that government serves and is accountable to the public interest.
Role in Redistricting
Common Cause has a history of leadership on redistricting, both nationally and here in Oregon. The organization played a nonpartisan, public interest role in Oregon’s last redistricting process, providing input to the House and Senate redistricting committees, public information through the media, and by working to support public participation in hearings organized by the legislature. Following redistricting, we released a report: Oregon’s 2011 Redistricting: Successes, Concerns, and Recommended Improvements, which lays out recommendations for specific reforms to improve our state redistricting. SB 331 addresses one of those recommendations.
Support for SB 331
Common Cause supports SB 331 because it upholds the principle of one-person-one-vote by remedying distortions caused by how Oregon counts prison populations during redistricting.
The primary impact of this bill is to lessen the distorting impact that occurs by counting a large population of non-voters in a concentrated location. Since Oregonians are not allowed to vote while imprisoned, but are still counted as residents of the state in the census and for the purpose of redistricting, concentrating prisoners in any one political district can have a skewing effect on the relative weight of voters. Prisoners become a significant population block of phantom voters, concentrated in one place somewhat artificially. It makes most sense to count them as they are naturally distributed across the state, in the communities where they are residents.
This current distortion impacts both the communities where prisons are located as well as the communities with high incarceration rates.
Communities with Prisons – These distortions play out not only between the communities where prisons are located and the rest of the state, but also within the communities that have prisons. For instance, in Pendleton, the prison population at the Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution makes up roughly 28% of a single Pendleton city council district. So every 3 residents of that district have the political power of 4 residents in other parts of the city.
Communities with High Incarceration Rates – The current practice also dilutes the relative voting strength of voters in communities with high rates of incarceration. For example, this impacts Oregon’s Native American population. With incarceration rates at more than twice the rate of White Oregonians, Native Americans make up 1% of the total Oregon population, but 3% of the incarcerated population. And for the most part, the prisons are located outside of tribal areas so that the voting power of non-incarcerated Native Americans is diluted.
Additionally, it’s worth considering that for the purpose of voting, the legal standard leans toward having people vote in their own communities, not where they are incarcerated.
In States Where Prisoners Vote – Both Vermont and Maine allow people to vote while in prison, and in both cases, they vote with absentee ballots in their home community elections, not in the elections where the prisons are located.
Current Oregon Law – Current practice is inconsistent with court decisions and state laws indicating that a person doesn’t lose their residency status during a temporary absence. The Oregon State Constitution is clear that a prison is not a residence: “[f]or the purpose of voting, no person shall be deemed to have gained, or lost a residence… while confined in any public prison.” (Article II, Section 4).
In summary, Common Cause recommends that for the purpose of redistricting, the appropriate place to count prisoners is in the communities where they are residents, not where they are incarcerated. This is consistent with current law, and is less likely to skew the relative voting strength within communities where prisons are located or between those communities and the rest of the state, and less likely to dilute the voting strength of communities with high incarceration rates. It better upholds the principle of one-person-one-vote.
Common Cause is appreciative of the House [sic] Rules Committee for considering SB 331 and urges you to vote this bill out of committee for consideration by your colleagues.
Re: SB 331 Regarding prisoner counting for redistricting purposes
The League of Women Voters is a 95 year old grassroots nonpartisan political organization that encourages informed and active participation in government. The Oregon League conducted a study in 2007 on Redistricting in Oregon
<http://www.lwvor.org/issues/about-study-reports/study-report-library/#2>, and after a consensus process among Oregon members, the study concluded with the redistricting position that is attached. Furthermore, the League has a long tradition supporting improvements in the representation of citizens and in transparency in government.
SB 331 would require that prisoners be counted, for the purposes of redistricting, in the communities where they are residents, rather than where they are imprisoned. This would uphold the principle of one-person-one-vote and would remedy distortions in representation caused by how Oregon currently counts prison populations during redistricting. The League also believes that SB 331 would improve the representation of the prisoners themselves by the public officials and communities where they reside, rather than those where they are incarcerated.
Since this proposal has been discussed since 2011, the League believes it is an idea whose time has come. We urge you to move a bill forward on this subject during this session, far ahead of the highly political time of the next redistricting process in 2021.
Thank you for the opportunity to discuss this legislation.
Robin Wisdom, LWVOR President
Norman Turrill, Governance Specialist
League of Women Voters of Oregon
LWV of Oregon Redistricting Position Adopted 2007
Congressional and legislative redistricting should advance the fundamental purposes of representative democracy and a republican form of government by affording the people a meaningful choice in electing their representatives and holding the government accountable to the people.
The League of Women Voters of Oregon believes that the Oregon legislative and congressional redistricting system should be efficient, adequately funded, based on well-defined criteria, subject to a reasonable and effective timetable, and have an open and public process.
A. Any redistricting plan should assure that voters are effectively able to hold their public officials accountable, responsible, and responsive, and be based on the following criteria:
• Adhere to all federal constitutional and legal requirements, such as that every district should have equal population, be contiguous, and meet the requirements of the Voting Rights Act;
• Promote competitiveness and partisan fairness;
• Consider other criteria, such as respect for political subdivisions, communities of interest, and geographic barriers.
B. Any redistricting plan should be developed independently of the Legislature in a nonpartisan manner with substantial public input. The Legislature may be afforded an opportunity to review the plan and accept or reject it.
C. The Oregon Supreme Court should promptly review and rule on any challenge to a redistricting plan and require adjustments if the criteria have not been met.
D. Oregon should conduct redistricting only once during each decade following the federal census.
March 10, 2015
To: Senate Rules Committee
Senator Diane Rosenbaum, Chair
From: James Ofsink
Chair, City Club of Portland Redistricting Committee Chair, Redistricting Matters Coalition
Re: Support for SB 331
The City Club of Portland and the Redistricting Matters Coalition support SB 331 and reforming how inmates are counted for the purposes of redistricting.
Our support is anchored in two fundamental democratic principles: that all people should have equal representation, and that we have a geographically based democracy.
The City Club of Portland conducted a yearlong citizen research project from 2011-2012 and concluded (among several recommendations) that Oregon should join a growing list of states that recognize that for the purposes of redistricting, we should count prisoners at their homes instead of in their temporary residence during incarceration.
SB 331 is a well-‐considered bill which instructs the Department of Corrections and Secretary of State’s office to work together to adjust the decennial federal Census populations by counting inmates in their district of origin.
The Supreme Court’s decision in Baker v. Carr enshrined that each person is entitled to the same relative amount of representation, which means that legislative districts must be roughly equivalent in population. The entire exercise of redistricting is an attempt to reflect the equal value of each individual’s voice by making sure that as population shifts that district boundaries respond accordingly to equalize the changes.
In Oregon, incarcerated individuals cannot vote and are concentrated into 15 facilities in 12 legislative districts. This non-‐voting population artificially inflates the relative strength of people living near the prison, while decreasing the relative strength of their community of origin.
SB 331 corrects this unintended imbalance by counting inmates at their homes instead of the facility in which they are assigned to serve their sentence.
The basis of our geographic system of representation is that there are indeed differences in the character and qualities of communities across the state. Senator Shields represents a different kind of Oregonian than Representative Bentz.
Although Oregonians from all corners share a sense of wonder and appreciation for our great state, opinions differ on how fulfill Oregon’s promise. There is a common thread running through community members who live together, raise their children together, and come together to solve problems. This is why we elect legislators from geographic districts, to reflect that communities deserve to have their unique voices heard. When members of some communities are counted arbitrarily in another area due to temporary incarceration, it erodes the sense of geographic representation so fundamental to our democracy.
SB 331 reflects best practice based on national research and would restore equity of representation to communities across the state.
We thank Sen. Shields for his leadership and the Rules Committee for considering this important issue and hope that you will agree that now is the time to make changes for fairness and justice leading up to the 2021 redistricting process. Passing SB 331 will be an important step towards that end and we encourage the Rules Committee to advance this bill.
The City Club of Portland is a nonprofit, nonpartisan education and research based civic organization dedicated to community service, public affairs and leadership development. In 2011-‐12 we studied the redistricting process in Oregon and nationally and developed several ideas to improve our state’s process.
The Redistricting Matters Coalition is a group of organizations that recognize the fundamental importance of the redistricting process and advocate reforms in Oregon. Learn more at: www.redistrictingmatters.org
To: Oregon Senate Committee on Rules, Sen. Diane Rosenbaum, Chair
From: Darlene Huntress, Executive Director, Oregon Action
Re: Support for Senate Bill 331
Chair Rosenbaum, Vice Chair Ferrioli, and Members of the Senate Rules Committee,
My name is Darlene Huntress and I am the Executive Director of Oregon Action, a statewide, multi-racial and multi-ethnic community organization dedicated to social justice. Oregon Action assists people to organize on their own behalf – with a focus on low-income people, people of color and others with limited access to traditional structures of power and policy-making. It is on behalf of those communities that I am here today to voice our support for Senate Bill 331.
Many have testified today about how Senate Bill 331 addresses the problems that arise when prisoners are counted as residents of where they are incarcerated rather than where they resided before their conviction. To be respectful of your time, and to give others an opportunity to speak, I would like to mention just one other aspect of this discussion that is especially important to the members of Oregon Action.
There are unintended political distortions that happen when relocating large numbers of urban, minority prisoners into mostly white, rural areas and then counting them as constituents there. The result is a shift in power between residents of prison districts and those who don’t have non-voting prisoners swelling their numbers—and this shift is at the expense of very specific urban communities where most prisoners originate—largely Latino, African American, and/or low income.
These are communities who already feel disempowered in the democratic process. Diluting their relative voting strength adds another item to a seemingly endless list of barriers, and only serves to further marginalize their voices from decision-making. SB 331 would address these unintended consequences by requiring the collection of home addresses of incarcerated people and correcting the Census’ population data to reflect people at their home addresses for state, county and municipal redistricting purposes.
On behalf of Oregon Action, I thank you for considering SB331 and urge you to vote this bill out of committee for consideration by your colleagues.
Darlene Huntress Executive Director, Oregon Action
Please Support SB 331
The Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde are in full support of the policy within SB331.
Oregon is truly unique when it comes to the relationship between the state and the tribes. Together, we have done amazing things, from Governor Atiyeh and the creation of the Commission on Indian Services, to Governor Kitzhaber’s Executive Order 96-30, and then passage of SB 770, which put into statute the government‐to‐government relationship. We should all be proud as Oregonians of the work done to solidify a strong bond between the state and the tribes.
It has been fifty years since the voting rights act of 1965, which prohibited racial discrimination in voting. Yet, American Indians still do not have equal representation at the ballot box. This traditionally underrepresented demographic makes up 1% of the total population in Oregon, but they are 3% of the incarcerated population.
Further compounding the problem of underrepresentation is how the Census Bureau counts incarcerated people as residents of their prison addresses. When Census prison counts are used for redistricting rather than the incarcerated person’s home residence, communities with a large prison population get extra representation and the voting rights of everyone else are diluted. Due to the racially disparate rates of incarceration the voting strength of American Indian communities is negatively impacted.
Counting incarcerated people in the district where they are imprisoned rather than in their home communities means their voices and the voices of their communities can more easily be ignored. Your support of SB 331 will ensure the constitutional principle of “One Person One Vote” is upheld and extended to all of Oregon’s population without special treatment for particular regions or industries.
It is paramount that we continue the hard work the state and all Oregonians have done to see the Nine Oregon Federally-Recognized Tribes are equally represented in our great state at the federal, state and local levels. Let’s turn the corner and use this issue as an opportunity to ensure the equal distribution of representation on the basis of population for this underrepresented demographic.
Please support Senate Bill 331