NEWS

Redistricting narrowly OK’d

ACI inmates a sticking issue

By EMMA BARTLETT
Posted 3/29/22

In a 5-3 vote Monday night, the City Council approved a ward redistricting plan. In a second 5-3 vote, the council approved a resolution calling on  the General Assembly to enact the plan into …

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NEWS

Redistricting narrowly OK’d

ACI inmates a sticking issue

Posted

In a 5-3 vote Monday night, the City Council approved a ward redistricting plan. In a second 5-3 vote, the council approved a resolution calling on  the General Assembly to enact the plan into law. Councilman John Donegan, councilwoman Aniece Germain and councilwoman Lammis Vargas cast opposing votes.

“My issue is with the continuance and perpetuation of present day gerrymandering and including non-resident incarcerated persons in the redistricting data,” said Donegan.

He said including non-resident inmates at the ACI skews the ward population by inflating the resident total of Ward 6 and giving the ward a disproportionate amount of political power at the city level.

“So effectively, 14,000 residents in Ward 3 will have the same political representation of 11,000 residents in Ward 6, and I don’t think that’s right,” Donegan said.

Vargas and Germain voiced the same concerns, asking what would happen if hypothetically the council did not approve the ward redistricting plan.

 “We are at a point where we cannot afford any delays, and that any substantive delay now would compromise our ability to conduct the election,” said Nicholas Lima, registrar and director of elections.

Lima said he understood the concerns.

According to Lima, there are approximately 1,400 inmates at the ACI and counted by the state in Cranston and 1,000 who are not. In the current redistricting process, the State Reapportionment Commission established a new process to count a portion of  inmates  who are serving two years or less since they could be counted with their home address. Lima said the state’s action would only affect the state process and not affect cities and towns.

Lima said the Cranston Board of Canvassers must have their ward redistricting plan to the Rhode Island Secretary of State by April 15. Failure of the city to complete the redistricting process and continue under the 2012 boundary lines could be considered violation of principles and open the city to litigation. In that case, those in the ACI would have no representation.

Cranston’s charter requires the city to be divided into six wards; the goal is to give citizens equal and proportional representation on the city council and school committee. The charter requires the city has to follow census data for the redistricting process – which occurs every ten years. 

If the city decided to change the charter’s language, council members would need to write an ordinance and – if passed – would go on this year’s ballot. If voters approved the change, the charter would be altered for the next census.

Councilwoman Jessica Marino said that while she has the same concerns as other council members, she would be voting to approve the ward redistricting plan.

“The state commission did something they haven't done in a long time and at least set forth that ACI and incarcerated population should not be considered when doing the redistricting, but the state has not enacted a law to enable us to do that tonight, and our charter limits us to following census data – which includes that population,” said Marino.

Councilman Matthew Reilly agreed with Marino, saying there are many other populations who are not eligible to vote but are included in census data such as children.

“There are a lot of transient groups that go through the city that are included, so why this one and not that one?” said Reilly.

Those who voted against enacting the new ward redistricting plan noted that the Board of Canvassers did a great job with the ward redistricting by being transparent and communicative throughout the process; this was merely an issue with policy.

The plan will now go to Mayor Ken Hopkins which he plans to approve. The new ward redistricting plan would then be used in the 2022 statewide primary and 2022 general election. The plan would also be effective for new ward boundaries when individuals are elected on Nov. 8, 2022.

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