Should non-citizens count?
Sen. Nancy Jacobs, a Harford County Republican, just announced that she's seeking an AG's opinion on whether the state could stop counting non-citizens when it apportions legislative districts. She says that the 2000 census counted 283,604 non-citizens in the figures given to the state for carving up legislative (and, presumably, Congressional) districts. That amounts to about 6,000 people per Senate district, she says. "It effectively diluted the votes of all people by about 5.3% statewide and theoretically would vary based on districts with more non-citizens versus districts with less non-citizens," her news release says.
That last part is probably the more significant one. If non-citizens were spread equally around the state, it wouldn't make any difference if they were counted or not. But they aren't distributed equally, and the large concentrations of non-citizen immigrants in some places helps give them more political power than they would have if those people weren't counted. Notably, some areas of Prince George's and Montgomery counties, and probably portions of East Baltimore, get more representation than they would otherwise if the non-citizens weren't counted. Jacobs says:
“I am a strong believer in the Constitutional rights afforded to citizens and voting is one of our most sacred rights. Voting is a truly democratic principle that must be fairly administered so that each citizen’s vote is equally valued. The current practice of counting non-citizens for the purposes of drawing up voter districts disenfranchises all Maryland voters, potential voters, and Maryland citizens. I expect the Attorney General will opine in favor of equality among citizens and that the state will adopt such an opinion into their redistricting process.”
Her logic seems to be that counting people who can't vote to determine the power of those who can isn't fair. But there are other implications to that argument. Despite legal changes making it easier for ex-offenders to vote, there are still thousands of people, particularly in Baltimore, who are ineligible because they are on probation or parole. Should their districts get less representation? What about Western Maryland, where the population (and, hence, political power) is augmented by the presence of the state's major prisons? In any case, Jacobs' idea could be a hot topic of debate as we draw nearer to the time for redistricting.