Many prisoners come from urban Democratic areas, but their prisons are located in rural Republican areas.By Jon Delano

HARRISBURG (KDKA) – The Legislative Redistricting Commission voted on Tuesday to scale back a proposal that it adopted last August. It’s all about where prisoners live for purposes of redistricting.

Where 37,000 state prisoners are counted for purposes of redrawing state House and Senate districts has become a hot political issue.

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Why? Because many prisoners come from urban Democratic areas, but their prisons are located in rural Republican areas.

“Counting prisoners as residents of districts where they’re incarcerated artificially inflates that voting power of those electors in that district and it deflates the voting power of electors in other districts,” Pennsylvania Rep. Joanna McClinton, the House Democratic Leader, told her colleagues on the Legislative Redistricting Commission.

In August, the Democrats won a 3-to-2 vote to count all prisoners except those sentenced to life as residents of their hometowns.

On Tuesday, the Republicans won a 3-to-2 vote to limit that only to prisoners whose sentence terms expire before the next Census on April 1, 2030.

“Prisoners are in fact physically located in the districts in which they are incarcerated,” said Pennsylvania Sen. Kim Ward, the Senate Republican Leader. “Limiting the scope of prisoner allocation to only those inmates who will be returning home in the next 10 years is a commonsense compromise.”

Ward offered the resolution to limit the original August resolution to short-term prisoners. While the chair, former University of Pittsburgh chancellor Mark Nordenberg, voted with the Democrats in August, this time he sided with the Republicans, reading a letter he received from them:

“‘The House and Senate Republicans would like to find an agreeable way to move forward, and we feel this proposal hits the mark.’ For these reasons, I will support the resolution today,” Nordenberg told the Commission.

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Carol Kuniholm, chair of the 60,000-member Fair Districts PA, said this commission comprised of two Democratic leaders and two Republican leaders puts Nordenberg, appointed by the state Supreme Court, in a tough position.

“We think probably his vote on this was him signaling, ‘I’m doing my very best to be fair and to listen to all sides,'” said Kuniholm. “We were disappointed in this outcome.”

“I do consider this a reasonable proposal,” Nordenberg told the Commission.

Nordenberg said this would affect 3,046 inmates who would continue to be counted as residents of the prison’s municipality, along with 3,954 inmates who are “lifers.”

That leaves 30,000 inmates to be counted for purposes of drawing state House and Senate districts as residents of their last municipality.

Allegheny County accounts for 2,500 state prisoners, while one out of four state prisoners comes from the city of Philadelphia.

These areas will benefit, while prison communities in Fayette (1,866 inmates), Greene (1,691 inmates) and Somerset (1,937) will have their populations reduced for purposes of redistricting.

This decision does not affect federal or county prisons.

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Redistricting data experts working with the state prisons told the Commission they won’t have the precise numbers until late October or early November.