Even though prisoners can't vote, counting them as “residents” of prisons can make a difference when it comes to determining how much representation a particular area will have in the state legislature, reports Stateline. Since 2010, Maryland, New York, Delaware, and California have passed laws to adjust the census tallies and count prisoners at their last known home addresses for purposes of redistricting. Supporters of the change say that counting the inmates at their home addresses rather than in prison will put a stop to “prison-based gerrymandering” that gives rural areas with prisons more representation than they deserve.
New York's legislation was arguably passed for partisan reasons after Democrats won control of both the Senate and the Assembly in 2008. Democrats hoped that if they reallocated prisoners from their incarceration addresses upstate to their assumed last-known addresses downstate, the reallocation might give New York City and its environs—a solidly Democratic area—more representatives in Albany. After much litigation and partisan wrangling, the new maps are not that much different than the old ones. “Every county received some prisoners back,” says Debra Levine, co-chair of New York's legislative task force on demographic research and reapportionment. “Certainly a lot were allocated to New York City, but there really was no significant (population) impact.” The resulting number of prisoners reallocated was relatively small, says The New York World, a new online publication launched by the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. The net loss upstate was 38,404 residents, while the net gain downstate was 20,112 residents.