Panel votes to modify where to count inmates on voting maps

January 6, 2022 GMT

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — The state’s panel in charge of drawing election districts has voted to modify how prison inmates in Rhode Island are counted and represented in government.

The Reapportionment Commission decided Wednesday in a vote of 15-1 that inmates sentenced for fewer than two years, or who have not yet been sentenced, will be counted as living at their home address and not at the prison in Cranston, The Providence Journal reported.

The state has long counted inmates as residents of the districts where the prison is located, which boosts the population of those districts at the expense of the inmates’ home districts.

The General Assembly has to approve the rule change, which would apply to the General Assembly and congressional district boundaries, the newspaper reported.

Ryan Taylor, project manager for Election Data Services, told the panel that under the proposed change, House District 20 would see the largest population loss and House District 3 in Providence and House District 49 in Woonsocket would see the largest population gains.

Taylor determined that 56% of inmates with addresses, or around 1,000 people, would meet the criteria for being counted at their home addresses.

Former state Sen. Harold Metts, a Democratic member of the commission, said the rule change represents some progress on what he called “prison gerrymandering.” He said he introduced many bills over his years in the state senate seeking to change how inmates are counted, The Boston Globe reported.

“Finally, this issue got the attention it deserves,” Metts said. “We were reminded that it’s never too late to do the right thing.”