Lawsuit challenging counting of prisoners in city’s redistricting allowed to proceed

Daniel Kittredge
Posted 9/11/14

A legal challenge to Cranston’s 2012 redistricting plan for City Council and School Committee wards has been allowed to proceed.

In a joint statement, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) …

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Lawsuit challenging counting of prisoners in city’s redistricting allowed to proceed

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A legal challenge to Cranston’s 2012 redistricting plan for City Council and School Committee wards has been allowed to proceed.

In a joint statement, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Rhode Island and the public policy organization Demos announced that U.S. District Court Judge Ronald R. Lagueux ruled Tuesday against a motion to dismiss a lawsuit that contests the redistricting on the basis of the “one person, one vote” principle.

At the heart of the case, Davidson et. al. v. City of Cranston, is the counting of inmates at the Adult Correctional Institutions (ACI) as residents of Ward 6. The plaintiffs in the case – the ACLU and Cranston residents Karen Davidson, Debbie Flitman, Eugene Perry and Sylvia Weber – characterize this practice as “prison gerrymandering.”

“According to Census Bureau data, without the incarcerated population, Ward 6 has only 10,209 true constituents. Yet those constituents now wield the same political power as the roughly 13,300 constituents in each of the other wards,” the joint release from the ACLU and Demos states. “The lawsuit claims that this dilutes the voting strength and political influence of citizens residing outside of Ward 6, in violation of the Equal Protection requirements of Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.”

“Counting people at the ACI as constituents of Ward 6 officials makes no sense,” said Aleks Kajstura of the Prison Policy Initiative, which is part of the plaintiffs’ legal team along with Demos and the ACLU, in the joint release. “They can’t use the park or library, attend a City Council meeting, or send their kids to public schools. And, even those who can vote must do so from their actual legal residence, not the prison location.”

“I’m thrilled this case is going forward,” Davidson states in the release. “As a Cranston resident and taxpayer I’m entitled to equal representation and I will keep fighting for it.”

City officials have defended Cranston’s redistricting process as having been in place for many years.

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