PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Island leaders released the first draft of new congressional maps Thursday night, part of the once-per-decade redrawing of political boundaries after the 2020 census.
The first potential map for the state’s two U.S. House districts can be found on RIRedistricting.org.
The new proposed plan was released ahead of another meeting of the Special Commission on Reapportionment, where consultant Kimball Brace has been presenting potential map scenarios to its members. The commission will ultimately recommend final maps to the General Assembly for approval.
The state is required to redraw the boundaries of its two congressional districts and all 113 General Assembly seats every 10 years to reflect population shifts identified in the decennial census.
Lawmakers released proposed maps for Rhode Island’s Senate and House districts earlier this month, but Thursday was the first time a new potential congressional map has been shared publicly.
Rhode Island was thought to be at risk of losing its two congressional seats prior to the 2020 census, but managed to hold on to both seats after the counting was complete.
The two districts are currently represented by Congressmen David Cicilline and Jim Langevin, both Democrats who are up for re-election in 2022. Republican Robert Lancia has announced a challenge against Langevin next year.
The dividing line between the two proposed districts cuts roughly vertically down the center of the state, with only Providence divided in half; every other city and town is wholly contained in either the 1st District or the 2nd District.
The proposed districts are similar to the current configuration, with roughly 9,000 residents of Providence near the dividing line swapping from one district to another based on the state’s population changes since the 2010 census.
At Thursday’s meeting the commission again discussed whether to count Rhode Island’s incarcerated population at the Adult Correctional Institutions in Cranston, where the prison is located, or in their home districts for purposes of representation. (The U.S. Census counted the prisoners in Cranston.)
This issue has been a point of contention in the redistricting discussions, as opponents of “prison gerrymandering” argue the inmates aren’t actually residents of Cranston and should be counted in their home communities.
Rhode Island doesn’t allow imprisoned felons to vote, but people incarcerated for a misdemeanor or at the prison’s intake center awaiting trial vote by mail in their home districts, not in Cranston.
But those who oppose counting the prisoners anywhere but Cranston point out that other groups such as college students are counted where they live on Census Day, not at their permanent addresses.
The city of Cranston has also raised concerns about allocating the prisoners in other districts. David Igliozzi, an attorney for Cranston and former state senator, said counting the prisoners outside of where the census placed them could violate the law.
“The enabling legislation does not indicate … that there can be any deviation from the final 2020 Census data provided,” Igliozzi said.
The maps of the Cranston House and Senate districts that contain the various ACI buildings would be the most affected if lawmakers decide to assign the inmates elsewhere.
The matter is expected to be decided in January.
The commission may decide to take a hybrid approach, only counting inmates with longer sentences in Cranston while divvying up the rest. In his presentation to the commission, Brace said roughly half of the inmates at the ACI have less than two years before their release, or have not been sentenced. (When only counting inmates who are “geocodable” to their prior address, it’s about 41%.)
Steven Brown, the executive director of the Rhode Island ACLU, said the length of sentence should be irrelevant to the decision.
“They are not residents of Cranston for any real purpose,” Brown said. He said, for example, that inmates have been blocked from enrolling their children in Cranston public schools because the city doesn’t consider the prisoners to be residents.
But Rep. Arthur “Doc” Corvese said it “defies common sense” to count prisoners with sentences longer than 10 years — including life sentences — anywhere other than Cranston.
“To be fair, keep them there,” Corvese said.
Ted Nesi contributed to this report.