Prison-Based Gerrymandering in Wisconsin

–by Peter Wagner

This article was prepared on Monday. On Wednesday, the Assembly passed the plan and it is now on the Governor’s desk awaiting signature.

The Wisconsin legislature is rushing through a redistricting plan so they can lock in the maps before the scheduled recall elections can change who has the power to draw district lines. In that rush, prison-based gerrymandering is poised to have an even greater impact on state, county and municipal districts than it did a decade ago.

The Census Bureau counts Wisconsin prisoners as if they were residents of the communities where they are incarcerated, even though they can’t vote and remain legal residents of the places they lived prior to incarceration. Crediting thousands of people to other communities has staggering implications for Wisconsin’s democracy, which uses the Census to apportion political power on the basis of equally-sized state and county legislative districts.

Wisconsin’s 53rd Assembly district has the highest concentration of prisons in the state. The 53rd District claims 5,583 incarcerated people as residents of the district, even though state law says that incarcerated people remain residents of their homes. All districts send some people to prison, although some districts some districts send more than others. But not all districts have prisons, and concentrating 23,000 prisoners in a handful of districts enhances the weight of a vote cast in those districts and dilutes all votes cast elsewhere.

More after the jump.
In Wisconsin, this impact is largest in District 53, where without using prison populations as padding, the district would be 10% below the required size. This gives every 90 residents of the 53rd district the same influence as 100 residents of any other district in the state.

If that seems insignificant, consider that the Supreme Court allows districts to have populations that are 5% too large or small if the state can protect some other legitimate state interest by doing so. The federal judges who have for decades drawn Wisconsin’s state legislative districts have had an even higher standard, allowing only a 1% deviation from strict population equality. The Republican majority of the legislature which drew the new districts took an even higher standard in the Assembly, drawing districts that are, by Census counts, no more than 0.4% too large or small.

The state’s efforts to carefully draw districts that give each district the same population and the same political influence is clearly overshadowed by the decision to use the Census Bureau’s data that credited incarcerated people to the wrong location when drawing districts, and created one of the most distorted state legislative districts in the county. The systematic bias introduced by drawing districts based on Census Bureau prison counts becomes clear when you look in detail at District 53:

District 53 purports to have a large African-American population, larger than 74 other districts. But of the 2,784 African-Americans in the district, all but 590 are incarcerated. The day the people incarcerated in the district are allowed to vote again, they will be on a bus, heading back to their home district. The 53rd District is claiming populations that are not a part of this district and never will be.

The state Assembly is not the only part of Wisconsin to raise the ante on prison-based gerrymandering and draw districts more distorted than they did a decade ago. In our previous research, we found some of the most dramatic examples of prison-based gerrymandering in the country in Wisconsin cities and counties. With two notable exceptions, counties appear to have been unable or unwilling to find a solution to competing state laws that indirectly require them to use the unadjusted Census numbers and engage in prison-based gerrymandering.

The two exceptions are Dodge County, and the City of Waupun. These communities did something clever: they split each large prison between 2 or 3 neighboring districts. Those districts still get credited with an incarcerated population that actually resides somewhere else, but the size of the vote enhancement in any individual district is smaller. And by extension, this reduces the extent to which votes are diluted in other Dodge County or City of Waupun districts.

With Dodge County and the City of Waupun finding solutions, albeit partial ones, the mantle for the most dramatic examples of prison-based gerrymandering is likely going to fall to Chippewa, Juneau, and Waushara counties, all of which saw new prisons built or expanded over the last decade, and all of which appear to be drawing individual county districts that are more than 50% incarcerated. In each of these counties, if you live next to the prisons, you’ll get twice the influence over the future of our county as residents who live elsewhere. That’s not fair. It likely violates the federal constitution’s guarantee of equal representation, and it certainly doesn’t make any sense.

We concede — when fairness and logic aren’t enough to avoid prison-based gerrymandering — that it is technically possible to draw a district that is half incarcerated. One town in Iowa had a district that was 96% incarcerated, until citizens intervened. So what are we watching for at the Prison Policy Initiative headquarters? We’re waiting to see how the cities of New Lisbon and Stanley draw their city districts. There, unless they take action, they’ll be faced with drawing districts that are more than 100% incarcerated. This impossibility could produce some of the most dramatic examples of prison-based gerrymandering in the country. Will those cities follow the state legislature’s blind rush into prison-based gerrymandering and end up drawing one or more City Council districts with no voters? Stay tuned.

Wisconsin cities and counties where relying on the Census for redistricting creates serious problems for democracy after the 2000 Census. (We also looked at Oshkosh City in Winnebago Co., Fond du Lac City in Fond Du Lac Co., Allouez Village in Brown Co., and Sturtevant Village in Racine Co., but these cities and villages are not affected because their local government is elected at large rather than from districts. Marquette County’s districts were not affected by the prisoner miscount because the county and state concluded that the census erred in placing the Federal Oxford prison in Marquette, when it is actually located in Adams County.) This table is updated from Importing Constituents: Prisoners and Political Clout in Wisconsin with the downsized districts in Fond du Lac County.

County District Percent of district’s population that is in prison Resulting Vote Distortion
Adams 5 & 6 64% 9 votes here = 25 elsewhere
Brown 14 22% 39 votes here = 50 elsewhere
Columbia 8 47% 27 votes here = 50 elsewhere
Dane 33 6% 47 votes here = 50 elsewhere
Dodge 29 53% 47 votes here = 100 elsewhere
Dodge 31 59% 41 votes here = 100 elsewhere
Dodge 35 10% 9 votes here = 10 elsewhere
Dodge 8 54% 23 votes here = 50 elsewhere
Fond du Lac 18 18% 82 votes here = 100 elsewhere
Jackson 10, 11, 12 and 19 24% 19 votes here = 25 elsewhere
Racine 13 17% 83 votes here =  100 elsewhere
Sheboygan  22 6% 47 votes here = 50 elsewhere
Sheboygan  32 25% 3 votes here = 4 elsewhere
Winnebago  12 42% 58 votes here = 100 elsewhere
Winnebago  30 16% 21 votes here = 25 elsewhere
City District
Fitchburg City 4 14% 43 votes here = 50 elsewhere
Franklin City 1 38% 31 votes here = 50 elsewhere
Waupun City 2 63% 37 votes here = 100 elsewhere
Waupun City 3 79% 21 votes here = 100 elsewhere

Where Less Can Be More

–by Rabbi Avi Shafran

“Can she have a cookie with a Pentagon-K on the box?” the voice on the phone asked and, after receiving my polite but negative response (a Pentagon-K?-now the Defense Department’s in the kashrus business? Who knew?), responded, “Fine, I’ll leave those in the cupboard.”

More after the jump.

It was the sort of conversation (emphasis on “sort”) that my wife and I had more than occasionally during the 1980s and early 1990s, when we lived in a city with only a small Jewishly observant community, and our children’s friends included not only other frum (observant) kids but children from less-observant families. The parents of those children knew that our kosher standards-whether regarding food, activities or entertainment-were different from theirs. And when our kids visited their homes, our less-observant neighbors-no less than we did for their visiting children with food sensitivities or allergies-took pains to make sure all special needs were fully accommodated.

Some might consider that situation clumsy, uncomfortable, even dangerous. But to us it was invaluable. We are grateful to G-d that we were able to live “out of town” for so long and only moved to New York (compelled by circumstances) after most of our children’s formative years.

Admitting that fact tends to raise eyebrows-at least those of people who never actually lived in a small frum community. “Come on,” the eyebrows’ owners respond, “you don’t mean to say that an environment with fewer frum Jews and Jewish educational opportunities, with more challenges to observance and more “foreign” influences, is superior, do you?”

Well, put that way, I’m hesitant to respond. But still and all, there are advantages to precisely such an environment.

Yes, in a large observant community, there are like-minded people pretty much everywhere you look, synagogues of all manner of custom; Maariv, or evening-prayer services at any hour of the night, meat restaurants and pizza places and kosher bakeries galore. Men’s and women’s yeshivos and seminaries of varied stripes, ritual holiday objects available seasonally on street corners, choices of study partners and observant neighbors, study halls and Torah classes. There are wedding halls and, may their services not be needed, Jewish burial societies.

And yet, the other side of the scales holds treasures of its own, some of them even born of the lack of religious amenities.

Variety may be the spice of life, and religious customs are certainly important. But when the numbers of “shul Jews” in a community are only sufficient to populate one or two places of prayer, Jews of different stripes have no choice but to worship among others whom, were they all living in a big city, they might never have met, much less bonded with as friends. Dearths of eateries are offset by increases in invitations for celebrations and Sabbath meals.

Torah classes and study partners? Well, out-of-town does mean fewer opportunities. But more impetus, too, to take advantage of what is available (and less ability to lay low and think no one will notice).  Being an integral part of a necessarily cohesive, small community, moreover, rather than a nameless member of a large one demands of a Jew that he or she not only write a check to the burial society or Eruv Committee but become an actual, active participant in such endeavors.

It is true that large observant communities can provide a measure of healthy insularity from the surrounding culture. But hard as the residents of religious neighborhoods may try to keep “the city” at bay, it will always have ways of infiltrating our enclaves. And metropolises tend to cook up the worst stews of challenges to Torah mores and proper behavior.

Smaller cities are hardly oases of healthy mores and manners. But the challenges they present are of a different order than those of New York or Los Angeles. Traditional values and civility are less rare, and more readily inform public discourse and behavior.

Out of town living isn’t for everyone. But Jews in the most heavily Jewish neighborhoods of frumdom could do worse than consider-if their work and family circumstances allow, and their spouses agree-the thought that leaving the plethora or shuls and bakeries behind and becoming important members of less endowed environments might just turn out to be the best decision they ever made.

Reflections on July 4

–by Rabbi Carl Choper, President of the Interfaith Alliance of Pennsylvania

I recall one year when I was  serving as a Hebrew school teacher, I was provided with a book to use in teaching Jewish history.  It was a volume of a two-part series, the first part on Jewish history before modern times, and the second on Jewish life in modern times.  The author, Abba Eban, had chosen a particular date to use as the demarcation between modern and pre-modern Jewish life:  July 4, 1776.

At first I thought it was strange that the author would choose the founding of a country which at the time had at most 3000 Jews in its population as the event that defined the beginning of modern Jewish life.  But, as the author pointed out, on July 4, 1776 the United States of America became the first country in modern times to grant full citizenship to Jews.  That made it the beginning of a new era in Jewish history.

On August 17, 1790, Moses Seixas of the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island wrote then President George Washington, saying in part:

“Deprived as we [the Jewish People] heretofore have been of the invaluable rights of free Citizens, we now with a deep sense of gratitude to the Almighty disposer of all events behold a Government, erected by the Majesty of the People — a Government, which to bigotry gives no sanction, to persecution no assistance — but generously affording to all Liberty of conscience, and immunities of Citizenship: deeming every one, of whatever Nation, tongue, or language equal parts of the great governmental Machine;”

More after the jump.
President George Washington responded:

“The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.”

To be sure, the United States was marked by many other limitations then as now.  In particular, the new society which promised religious liberty also practiced slavery.  Racial biases continue to afflict us to this day.  But at least on July 4, 1776 a step was made towards creating a national political structure built on the assertion that  a society could thrive when it first allowed individuals to participate with all their personal diversity.  Individuals did not need to be what their government told them they needed to be.  Rather, the government was to be shaped by society’s individual participants in loud and raucous conversation.  So has been the ideal, yet to be achieved.  But on July 4, 1776  – in Pennsylvania, no less – a step was taken towards the attempt, and the world has not been the same.

Since 1790 many attempts have been made to give voice to this vision and to advance it.  Also many attempts have been made to roll it back.  All of this continually provides the context for many struggles within our society, and the work of The Interfaith Alliance of Pennsylvania.

NJDC President and CEO David Harris Responds to Gallup Poll of American Jews

–by David Harris

This Gallup poll demonstrates definitively that the American Jewish community is not being fooled by the disturbing smear campaign being waged against President Obama and his outstanding pro-Israel record. Not only was Jewish approval of the President statistically unchanged during the six-week period in which his opponents engaged in an organized effort to distort Administration policies for political gain, but the +14% favor shown to him by American Jews overall has remained virtually constant since he took office in January, 2009.

“When it comes to everything this President has done to strengthen the U.S.-Israel relationship — as with every issue — facts are our friends. And the more American Jews learn the facts, and cut through the virulent smear campaigns, the more and more they will support this President. In the meantime, enough is enough. The time has come, once and for all, for those who continue using Israel as a political wedge issue for partisan political gain — including far too many GOP presidential candidates — to cease and desist. It’s profoundly damaging to the bipartisan U.S.-Israel relationship, and apparently American Jews aren’t buying it either.”

B’Nai B’Rith Commends the Netherlands for Refusing to Recognize Palestinian State Declaration

B’nai B’rith also praises the Dutch government for defunding non profit organizations engaging in anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions activities.

–by Sharon Bender

B’nai B’rith International commends the Dutch government for joining other nations in rejecting a Palestinian plan to achieve a unilaterally declared statehood at the United Nations. In a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on June 30, Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal said the Netherlands would not support a push for statehood recognition at the General Assembly in September.

The Netherlands calls for direct, bilateral negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and rejected the United Nations as a venue for promoting unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state-a view B’nai B’rith has long supported.

B’nai B’rith also praises the Dutch government for its plans to implement restrictions on Dutch humanitarian programs that fund anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions programs (BDS) and that seek to delegitimize the Jewish state. This move from the Dutch foreign ministry would prevent non profit organizations from using taxpayer money to fund anti-Zionist and anti-Israel initiatives.

Additionally, the Netherlands will enter into a partnership with Israel, the Dutch-Israeli Cooperation Council, by January 2012, to strengthen political ties and increase economic investment between the two countries.

More after the jump.
These positive developments come on the heels of a government assault on religious freedom when the lower house of the Dutch Parliament voted to ban ritual slaughter of animals, which would prohibit Dutch Jews and Muslims from adhering to their religious dietary laws.  B’nai B’rith urges the upper house to reject the ban when it votes on the measure in September.

B’nai B’rith International, the Global Voice of the Jewish Community, is the oldest and most widely known Jewish humanitarian, human rights, and advocacy organization.  For 167 years, BBI has worked for Jewish unity, security, continuity, and tolerance.  Visit

Red, White, Blue … and Green

How to make your barbecue more environmentally friendly.

–by Misty Edgecomb

The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that 60 million Americans get together with their friends and families barbecues on the Fourth of July. Good times, for sure, but to what impact on the environment?

These millions of grills release some 225,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide, burn the equivalent of 2,300 acres of forest, and consume the same amount of energy as the city of Flagstaff, Arizona, uses in a whole year.

Big consequences. So what to do?  The Nature Conservancy is offering 10 tips for eco-friendly celebrations, so you can have yourself a green barbecue this Fourth of July and all summer long!

Top 10 Ways to Green Your BBQ Party (in no particular order):

1. Use reusable or biodegradable plates and utensils. If you can’t find those, at least go for products made from 100 percent recycled materials. Remember that your biodegradable plates will need to be cleaned before going in the compost bin- ketchup, hamburger grease and other-non-veggie food matter doesn’t compost.
2. Fill up pitchers of water, homemade lemonade and iced tea instead of buying huge quantities of personal-sized beverage containers.
3. If you take heed of tip #2, you’ll need to provide cups. If you use plastic or paper cups, provide markers at the drink counter so people can write their names on their cups- and therefore not use more than one.
4. And even if you follow tip #2, you’re likely to have beer and other individual-sized beverages in a cooler. Encourage recycling by putting out easily identifiable bins- you’ll find fewer bottles and cans smeared with ketchup in the garbage.
5. Grill locally grown fruits and vegetables. While local doesn’t necessarily mean organic, small farms are often more likely to be more sustainable and pesticide-free.

More after the jump.
6. Going vegetarian can be better for the planet than eating meat. But if you do eat meat – or your guests do, invest in organic, local or sustainably raised dogs, burgers and chicken.
7. Encourage walking, biking or carpooling to your party.
8. Make sure mosquitoes don’t drive your guests away. Before the party, take a look at prime mosquito breeding grounds – clean out rain gutters, check other spots with standing water and mow your grass (with a reel mower, of course). Even better, help the mosquito-problem year round without resorting to chemicals by installing a bat house in your yard.
9. If you’re throwing a big bash, chose e-vites over mailed invitations.  Sending invitations electronically will save both money and trees. Bonus for going the electronic route: You’ll save on the fuel used to deliver the cards.
10. Don’t forget the little things. Choosing organic condiments, reusable napkins instead of paper ones, homemade decorations and fresh flowers over disposable party products and other details will help round off the finishing touches of your green BBQ.

For more information:

The Nature Conservancy is the leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people.  To date, the Conservancy and its more than one million members have been responsible for the protection of more than 18 million acres in the United States and have helped preserve more than 117 million acres in Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia and the Pacific. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at

Former Healthcare Supporter Huntsman Joins Presidential Rac

— by Brad Bauman

The National Jewish Democratic Council today applauded Jon Huntsman’s service to the Obama Administration despite his perplexing policy changes on the issues that matter to most American Jews. Upon former Ambassador Huntsman’s announcement to enter the presidential race, NJDC CEO and President David A. Harris said:

I applaud former Ambassador Huntsman’s decision to enter the race despite his flagrant policy shifts on the President’s economic recovery efforts, health care reform legislation, and proven cap-and-trade policies. I am puzzled as to why Huntsman would abandon his positions that have served him so well in his political career in favor of courting the extreme right-wing factions of the Republican Party as so many of his fellow Republican contenders have.

In 2009, Huntsman told Politico that the President’s successful stimulus package “didn’t necessarily hit the mark in terms of size” and should have totaled “about a trillion dollars.” Just two days ago, President Obama’s former advisor David Axelrod said that Huntsman’s decision to call the President’s economic policy “failed” is “in conflict with what he communicated to us in 2009.”

More after the jump.
Huntsman also supported President Obama’s comprehensive health care reform package before he turned against it. He expressed his support to at least three White House officials during a presidential visit to China and signed a slew of health care reform bills into law during his governorship of Utah that contained proposals identical to the President’s plan. In 2008, Huntsman said that “the time for change is now” for America’s health care system. However, Huntsman now denounces the idea of comprehensive health care legislation, saying that in Utah, “We didn’t end up going the individual-mandate route, like they did in Massachusetts.”

Huntsman formerly championed cap-and-trade policies, signing the Western Climate Initiative and championing the Utah Blue Ribbon Advisory Council on Climate Change. He even stated that

We have entered an era in which all nations are called upon to work together to address the urgent problem of global climate change. The United States and China should be part of the solution, and collaboration on clean energy and greater energy efficiency offer a real opportunity to deepen the overall U.S.-China relationship.

But now he has chosen to pander to the extreme right of the GOP, telling Time Magazine “it hasn’t worked,” and that “this isn’t the moment” to implement it.

Utah Democratic Party chair Wayne Holland put it best when he said that “the nominating process of the GOP is held captive by the extreme right, right now – what we call the ‘tin foil cap-wearers.’ The governor seems to be pretty anxious to play to that crowd right now.” Huntsman’s choice to run away from his original progressive policy positions now places him far away from where the vast majority of American Jews stand on key issues that affect the lives of our fellow citizens and future generations to come.

Philly Program Grows and Succeeds in San Fran

Jane Slotin, executive director of Partnership for Effective Learning and Innovative Education (PELIE); Helene Tigay, former executive director of the Auberbach Central Agency for Jewish Education in Philadelphia; and David Waksburg, executive director of the Bureau of Jewish Education in San Francisco, (BJE) at the BJE’s Annual Celebration. Photo credit: Yulia Goldshtrakh

PELIE Recognized for Bringing Successful Jewish Education Program to San Francisco

— by Katie Stinchon

Recently, more than 200 lay leaders, clergy, educators, and volunteers gathered at the Bureau of Jewish Education’s Annual Celebration  to honor five congregations for participating in a pilot program called NESS (Nurturing Excellence in Synagogue Schools), which initially took root in Philadelphia before being expanded by PELIE (Partnership for Effective Learning and Innovative Education) in San Francisco. PELIE was also recognized for their work transforming Jewish education at the local synagogues.

PELIE is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to improve complementary Jewish education in North America, change the perception the public has about the field, and attract new investors.

In 2008, PELIE awarded a grant to the Bureau of Jewish Education in San Francisco to bring NESS to Congregation Beth Jacob in Redwood City, Congregation Kol Emeth in Palo Alto, Congregation Rodef Sholom in San Rafael, Congregation Sherith Israel in San Francisco and Peninsula Temple Shalom in Burlingame. Since rolling out NESS in these schools, enrollment has increased 22 percent.

The NESS process engages parents as partners and results in a shared conversation throughout each synagogue. It creates religious school education that is aligned with the mission and values of the synagogue, and that ultimately educates parents alongside their children. NESS consultants provide on-site intervention and work with synagogue lay and professional leadership to develop custom-design plans to fit the needs of each synagogue. The goal of NESS is to provide Jewish youth with a meaningful educational experience in order to foster and develop a positive Jewish identity and increase community involvement. Its key components include adapting best practices for teachers from both secular and Judaic standpoints; professional training; school assessments; and leadership, organizational, and curriculum development.

Founded in 2007, The Partnership for Effective Learning and Innovative Education (PELIE) works to improve complementary (part time) Jewish education in multiple settings throughout the nation. PELIE accomplishes this through advocating, consulting, and researching the field; by highlighting and adapting models that work; and by funding with local partners to bring change to their communities. PELIE also works to bring technology into Jewish education along with a variety of other “tools” – assessment, organizational, and experiential – to impact the ever-changing field of complementary Jewish education.

Supreme Court Rules Against Female Wal-Mart Employees

by Mark Pelavin, Associate Director, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism

We are disappointed by today’s Supreme Court decision depriving more than one million current and former female Wal-Mart employees of their right to sue the company in a class action lawsuit. Although all nine justices agreed on a technicality about the way the class was certified, a narrow majority of five justices was willing to go even further and assert that the female employees do not have enough in common to sue as a class. We find this analysis troubling because it suggests that a large employer such as Wal-Mart can escape accountability simply because the sheer size of its workforce makes it difficult to ascertain commonality. We believe the plaintiffs presented clear evidence of a disturbing pattern of gender-based pay and promotion discrimination at Wal-Mart that should have qualified them to sue as a class under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

More after the jump.

We are also deeply concerned about the potential impact of the Wal-Mart Stores v. Dukes ruling on the future of class action lawsuits, which are essential to addressing the many forms of discrimination that still exist in the United States-and that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act was designed to eliminate. Guided by our long history of supporting civil rights for all and our strong support of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Reform Movement joined an amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to allow the case to proceed as a class action lawsuit.

The full implications of today’s decision are far from clear, but one thing is certain: Women deserve equal pay for equal work, and today the Supreme Court made it harder for that to happen.

Israeli Master’s Soccer Team: An Example of Diversity in Middle East

— by Michelle Effron Miller

The Consulate General of Israel in Philadelphia hosted the Israeli National Master’s Team (Nivcheret Yisrael Vatikim) this week. The soccer players began a few years ago as an unofficial group of former professional players who simply wanted to keep active in the sport. Now they travel the world representing Israel and its diversity. The Israelis play as one although they are members of several different religions: Christian, Druze, Muslim and Jewish.

Beginning the U.S. tour in Philadelphia (Tel Aviv’s sister city), last Sunday they challenged the West Chester Predators’Over-30 Men’s Travel Team. Although the Israelis fought a hard game, they lost 2-1. Pictured here, the Israelis are in white and blue uniforms, the Predators are in black.  

Michelle Effron Miller is the Director of Media and Governmental Affairs for the Consulate General of Israel in Philadelphia. For information contact her at [email protected]

Photo Credit: Consulate General of Israel in Philadelphia.