Currently, New Jersey bases its legislative districts on U.S. Census Bureau data, which counts incarcerated people in the census block that contains the prison, instead of at their homes.
Although people convicted of felonies in New Jersey are not eligible to vote while they are incarcerated, those who are incarcerated for misdemeanors or awaiting trial can vote with an absentee ballot in their home districts.
The Census’ population count method using the prison address for these individuals unfairly tilts the weight of votes cast in districts containing prisons over districts without prisons.
The bill (A-1987), sponsored by Assembly members Shavonda Sumter (D-Bergen, Passaic), Raj Mukherji (D-Hudson) and Annette Quijano (D-Union), would require that individuals who are incarcerated in State and federal facilities in New Jersey are to be counted at the person’s last known complete street address for legislative redistricting purposes.
The sponsors issued the following joint statement on the bill:
“By requiring incarcerated individuals to be counted at their last known residential address for legislative redistricting purposes, the bill would eliminate the inequity and ensure every eligible person is counted for one vote.
“To do this now is imperative to ensuring a complete and accurate count during the 2020 Census and a more balanced account of voters in all legislative districts in the state.”
The measure would require the State Department of Corrections to collect and maintain an electronic record of the residential address of each individual entering its custody starting on the 30th day following the date of enactment of the bill. Under the bill, to the greatest extent practicable, districts are to be drawn to meet equal population requirements calculated under data sets developed under the Department of State. Residences at unknown geographic locations within the State are not to be used to determine the ideal population of any set of districts or wards.
The bill was released by the Assembly Appropriations Committee. It will now go to the Assembly Speaker for further review.