State Senator Wants to Change How Prisoners Counted for Redistricting

With the legislative session coming up in Tallahassee at the start of the year, a Democrat in the Florida Senate is calling for reforming districts in time for the next round of redistricting in 2022.
State Sen. Randolph Bracy, D–Ocoee, has filed a bill with hopes of ending what he think is gerrymandering in many rural voting districts in Florida. The bill is fairly simple. It would force the state to count prisoners as being based at their home addresses instead of prison. Currently, prisoners are counted inside the prison and their numbers are added to the district in which the prison is located.
Bracy said inflating rural populations changes the redistricting dynamics.
“If you count them in the rural districts where they are incarcerated, then it gives more voting power to those districts,” Bracy told Florida Daily.
If Bracy’s bill passed, it could lead to major changes when legislators draw up new maps.  The metro areas of Orlando, Tampa and Miami could pick up an extra state House or Senate district if prisoners are counted from their hometowns instead from the prison while lowering the population in some rural districts. For example, the state prison in Starke has up to 1,460 inmates at any time. Most of that population would not be included in the rural Northeast Florida legislative districts which cover Starke.
Bracy likened his proposal to a simple concept: one man, one vote.
“I just think it is a matter of fairness. I don’t know what the opposition will be,” he told Florida Daily.
Bracy pointed out to Florida Daily that most of the prisoners in state prisons are ineligible to vote when they are counted for voting populations.
“There are some misdemeanors that will score prison time but most of the people in prisons have committed felonies, serious crimes,” he said.
If passed, the bill would take effect after the 2020 census is complete.
Bracy told Florida Daily that he does not see any advantage to either Democrats or Republicans if his bill is passed–but state legislators from rural areas, which heavily favor the GOP and conservatives, will disagree.
Despite Republican control of the Legislature, Bracy is optimistic that his bill will pass.
“We are going to have a busy session with a lot of issues but with the 2020 election coming up, with the census coming up, it will garner some attention,” he said.
Bracy admitted his bill could be a sensitive topic because elections are often close in Florida.
The Department of Corrections has the home address of all of its prisoners so the bill is not expected to have a large implementation cost. Florida has almost 166,000 offenders on probation, and 96,000 inmates currently incarcerated, according to the Department of Corrections.

 

Reach Mike Synan at mike.synan@floridadaily.com.

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