Maryland will become the first state to redraw districts by counting prisoners in their home towns instead of their cells, a change that is expected to help Baltimore avoid losing political power, reports the Washington Post. Civil rights advocates praised the No Representation Without Population Act signed by Gov. Martin O’Malley. The National Urban League and the ACLU are among groups that have called for an end to “prison-based gerrymandering,” and similar changes have been considered by at least seven other states.
“The vast majority will be going back to where they came from, and what this will do is count them where they live,” said Hilary Shelton of the Washington office of the NAACP. Opponents, primarily lawmakers from rural areas with prison facilities, consider the change a power grab that could cost them federal funds down the road. “They may be originally from Baltimore,” said Delegate Kevin Kelly, whose district has one federal and two state penitentiaries that house 4,300. “But they’re spending the next five, 10 or 30 years here.” The law was enacted in preparation for the 2010 Census, now underway, and it underscores what is at stake. Statewide census numbers determine how many congressional seats a state has, but each state has some leeway in using the data to determine the boundaries of state and local political districts. Although the new law will be used in redrawing all those lines, congressional districts are so large that any impact should be minor. Maryland’s biggest beneficiary is Baltimore, where 68 percent of the state’s 25,000 prisoners were living before they were convicted.