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Home » Local and State

Residence, shmesidence

Submitted by admin on May 24, 2010 – 12:26 pmOne Comment
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By Alan Smithee

Over at the Chron they are reporting about a block of 14,000 absentee RV owners up around Lake Livingston who are skewing the politics Republican. The problem, as the local Dems see it, is that since the vast majority of the people who are registered to vote at the address of the RV camp don’t actually live in Texas well, it kind of seems like voter fraud which is something that Texas Attorney General Greg Abbot takes very seriously. So seriously that he spent $1.4 million in Federal crime fighting funds to prosecute people taking their neighbors absentee ballots to the mailbox.

However, as the Dallas Morning News so helpfully pointed out in April 2009, for those of you too lazy to click on the links,  all of the cases of voter fraud Abbot has prosecuted have been against Black and Hispanic Democrats, none have resulted in jail time and  almost all of them have been what are considered ‘technicalities.’ While the AG’s office is dragging people who forgot to initial an envelope because they took Grammy’s ballot to the post office along with their netflix movie,  thousands of ballots each year are going to people who have never set foot in Texas and, in some cases, own homes in other parts of the country.

Part of the reason for the lack of prosecution is that technically the RVers aren’t breaking any laws. Texas has such a wide definition of residency, and is so concerned with ‘honest elections,’ that we actually have a section in the election code specifically dealing with voting while in outer space. However, none of that stopped Governor Rick Perry from trying to disenfranchise students at Prairie View A&M in 2004 (PDF).  Apparently, Slick Rick thought that just because someone attends college in one place they shouldn’t be allowed to vote there.

This same tactic had been tried in the past to prevent members of the military from voting. In fact Texas has attempted to disenfranchise so many groups over the years that it has led to multiple “test cases” for voter residency, which has opened the idea of where a person lives, for voting purposes, to some creative interpretation. However, the same residency standards don’t apply to people in different types of temporary living quarters.

The Texas Election Code states that men and women incarcerated in a prison or other state institution don’t receive residency for voting purposes.  However, this year the census will count them in the prisons and that count will be used for redistricting purposes. For those of you who didn’t pay attention in high school government this means that approximately 30,000 mostly Black and Hispanic residents of Harris County will be counted as residents of such cosmopolitan locales as Eden, Texas  where 51 percent of the town’s 2,381 people are incarcerated. I know I’m still losing some of you so I’ll explain this clearly and slowly with no links, since 30,000 residents will be counted as living outside of Harris County we will lose out on funds for roads and schools as well as representation in City Hall, the State Legislature and Congress.

Surprisingly the top five Congressional districts with the most prisoners, are Republican districts. It is a different story when it comes to districts for the Texas Legislature.  Out of the top five House Districts with the most prisoners three are Democratic  and two are Republican. In Texas State Senate Districts, four out of the top five districts with the most prisoners are Republican districts.

This means that Black and Hispanic residents of Harris County, who are most likely Democrats, are being counted as residents in Republican districts for the purposes of redistricting.  Because of past egregious examples of malapportionment, the Supreme Court ruled in 1963  that all districts in a state have to have roughly the same population. However, since approximately 12 percent of the people in State Representative Byron Cook’s district are incarcerated and can’t vote the remaining constituents’ voices are heard even louder.

All of this is something to keep in mind when the Texas legislature takes up yet another version of the Voter ID bill in 2011.

One Comment »

  • Peter Wagner says:

    Counting prisoners in the wrong part of Texas doesn’t hurt funding for roads or schools (because the former is a block grant to the state as a whole and the latter is based on population data that prisoners do not affect) but the impact on legislative districting is significant. By granting residents of some parts of the state extra political influence just because they happen to have large prisons in their district, the legislature’s outcomes will change.

    And that is bad for Harris County and every part of the state that doesn’t have large prisons.

    It is too late for the Census Bureau to change where people in prison are counted for this Census, but there is still time for Texas to follow Maryland and pass a law that will require the Census Bureau’s prison count to be adjusted prior to districting.

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