RI Redistribution Commission approves new House, Senate and Congress districts
According to the proposed maps, the state will begin counting inmates at their homes rather than at the AIT if they should be in prison for less than two years or have not yet been sentenced. The remainder will continue to be counted at the Cranston Penitentiary Complex for redistribution purposes.
Critics have claimed that the current system “distorts democracy” by providing oversized representation to elected leaders in neighborhoods with jail cells while diminishing representation from other neighborhoods, especially urban neighborhoods with many people of color. . But Cranston officials have defended the current system, saying the city pays firefighters, police and other public services in prisons.
Another big change, the final version of the house map keeps the Hill and Harbor neighborhoods together in East Greenwich. Many officials and townspeople had testified before the commission, opposing previous versions of the map that divided the hill and the harbor into separate quarters.
“The main one that people have all been talking about is East Greenwich in terms of the hill and the harbor,” said redistribution consultant Kimball W. Brace. “I’m happy to report that we’ve put this back together.”
While East Greenwich officials argued the city was the perfect size for a single house district, Brace said the 30 house district is “not isolated,” located in the middle of the state, and that the drawing of the legislative limits creates a “ripple effect”. So, while House’s latest map reunites Hill and Harbor, it moves a different part of town to a neighboring neighborhood of House, he noted.
House District 30 is now represented by Representative Justine Caldwell, a Democrat from East Greenwich.
The cutting committee ended up voting 13 to 4 for the House and Senate cards. The “no” votes came from four Republican lawmakers – Rep. Brian C. Newberry, of North Smithfield, Rep. David J. Place, of Burrillville; Senator Jessica de la Cruz, of North Smithfield, and Senator Gordon E. Rogers, of Foster.
Rogers said the latest House and Senate maps – Plan D – were posted on the redistribution website about five minutes before Wednesday’s meeting began and reflected the inmate redistribution. He therefore called for postponing the final vote to give the public a chance to weigh in on the latest iterations of the cards before they make it to the General Assembly.
“We basically took an oath to be transparent, open and to have a fair process,” Rogers said. “And I would hate to see that marred.”
But Senator Stephen R. Archambault, a Democrat from Smithfield who is the commission’s co-chair, proceeded with the final votes.
“These will go to the committee where there can still be an ongoing dialogue,” he said. “We are voting at the end of our work on whether we will send it to the committee”, so “there will still be time to have a dialogue and to contribute”.
Newberry has raised concerns about changes to two legislative constituencies. He asked why House District 46 (represented by Rep. Mary Ann Shallcross Smith, a Democrat from Lincoln), contains a small piece of Pawtucket when the district is mostly in the city of Lincoln.
Newberry also asked why a slice of Lincoln is now in Senate District 22 (represented by Archambault) rather than Senate District 17 (represented by Senator Thomas J. Paolino, a Republican from Lincoln). “It sounds very strange, and I hope the Senate will take a close look at it when it gets there,” he said.
But former Representative Stephen R. Ucci, a Johnston Democrat on the Redistribution Commission, said there would inevitably be “anomalies” when legislative constituencies are drawn taking into account communities of interest, minority populations, change of address of inmates and other variables. “But at the end of the day, we have to make some tough choices,” he said. “And with the last two examples, I don’t really see a problem with them.”
The committee voted 15-2 for the Congress card, with Newberry and Place voting “no.” De la Cruz and Rogers voted for these cards, saying the public had ample time to comment on the proposals.
In an email, Common Cause Rhode Island said Wednesday that the new legislative cards “maximize protection for incumbent politicians and minimize partisan fairness.” But the cards represent “a small step towards eliminating the practice known as gerrymandering in prison,” the group said.
“We appreciate the commission’s decision to take this one step further, but it is clear that there is still work to be done to end gerrymandering in Rhode Island prisons,” wrote Common Cause Executive Director John Mr. Marion. “We will continue our advocacy at the General Assembly in the years to come to ensure that in the future, everyone is counted at their homes. “
Common Cause noted that the redistribution process will continue at the local level, with cities such as Providence and Cranston drawing new neighborhood boundaries.