North country senators are signing on to a lawsuit that challenges the way the state's prisoners are counted, but won't comment on it because of the ongoing legal battle.
Sens. Joseph A. Griffo, R-Rome, and Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, declined to comment, through their spokesmen.
The lawsuit challenges the state's new law that counts prison inmates as residents at their last known address for redistricting purposes, rather than a resident of the facility in which they are incarcerated.
Opponents of that 2010 law call it unconstitutional gerrymandering. Supporters say that doing anything otherwise would be unconstitutional gerrymandering.
Among other things, the lawsuit contends that the state constitution requires prisoners to be counted according to the U.S. Census Bureau figures. When the Census Bureau conducted its nationwide head count on April 1, 2010, it counted prisoners where they were incarcerated.
But the Census Bureau, starting with its newest batch of figures, will allow states to separate out prisoner populations. That was prompted by changes in laws in other states that, like New York's law, required prisoners to be counted at their last known addresses.
"This decade we are releasing early counts of prisoners ... so that states can leave the prisoners counted where the prisons are, delete them from the redistricting formulas, or assign them to some other locale," Census Bureau Director Robert M. Groves wrote in a blog post on the bureau's website.
Those counts should be available sometime in May, Census Bureau spokesman Derick Moore said in an email.
Maryland and Delaware have enacted similar laws that would count prisoners at their last known address, rather than where they are incarcerated.
The prisoner population figures are taken into account only for redistricting purposes — that is, when slicing up the state into different legislative units — and not for federal aid.
Counting prisoners as residents of an original address would deplete some already-small legislative districts, including Sens. Griffo's and Ritchie's.
North country legislators argue that because prisoners use services locally — such as roads and natural resources — they should be counted locally for legislative districts.
Downstate legislators and prison-reform advocates argue that counting the prisoner population in the prisons unfairly magnifies representation in white, upstate districts at the expense of minority districts downstate.