SACRAMENTO–The California State Assembly Committee on Elections and Redistricting recently approved AB 420, legislation by Assemblyman Mike Davis (D-Los Angeles), which will change the way we count inmates in our prisons for redistricting purposes. The vote was 5 to 2, in favor of the bill.
Currently, inmates are counted for redistricting purposes wherever they are found, rather than based on their last known residence. Under this system, inmates from Los Angeles who are incarcerated in San Quentin are counted along with Marin County, rather than L.A. County residents. This has the effect of disenfranchising California’s African-American and Latino communities by diluting their voting strength.
However, Elections Code Section 2025 provides that a person does lose his home residence by virtue of being held in a state prison. This section controls the establishment of a person’s domicile for voting purposes, and should therefore be the definition of domicile for redistricting purposes.
AB 420 would clarify the law on this point, and strengthen the principle of one person, one vote by counting inmates according to their last known residence on file with the Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation.
“This bill ensures as accurate a count as possible of the people in every community in California, and makes sure that they are assigned to the correct geographic location,” Assemblymember Davis said. “Only in this way can we be certain that our actual voting strength is honestly reflected in the redistricting process.”
“By counting incarcerated individuals in districts far removed from their home communities, those communities are being deprived of the political representation to which they are entitled,” Davis said. “AB 420 not only remedies the counting of large populations in the wrong places, it brings the California redistricting process in line with the basic principles of democracy.”
Counting large populations of prisoners as local residents when they are legally domiciled dozens or hundreds of miles away leads to misleading conclusions, particularly as it relates to the need for political representation. AB 420 will bring this practice to an end.
Supporters of AB 420 include the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, the League of Women Voters, Drug Policy Alliance, Legal Serves for Prisoners with Children, Friends Committee on Legislation, and Prison Policy Initiative, all of whom have worked to change how people in prison are counted, as well as community organizations including the Greater Sacramento Urban League, the Advancement Project, the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, First AME and the California Black Pastors Association.
AB 420 will now move to the Assembly Committee on Appropriations.