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Could Walpole face lawsuit?

February 20, 2014

In a sign that Walpole may be vulnerable to a lawsuit, the ACLU has joined with residents of Cranston, R.I. to sue the city of Cranston over a redistricting plan that counts prisoners for the purpose of apportioning city wards.

According to the Providence Journal, the American Civil Liberties Union “joined four residents and two voters’ rights advocacy groups in charging that the plan violates the one person, one vote principle, under the constitution.”

The suit argues that “because the incarcerated population [of Cranston] constitutes a full 25 percent of the people who make up Ward 6, that ward has significantly fewer actual residents than the other five wards.”

Cranston resident Karen Davidson, who is a plaintiff in the suit, said in a statement “as a long-time resident and taxpayer of Cranston, I am deeply concerned that the City Council decided in 2012 to perpetuate this voting inequity, especially after the ACLU pointed out the constitutional problems with it. It is time for city officials to show some leadership and stop wasting taxpayers’ money defending themselves from legal challenges like this.”

In Walpole, the current town charter, based on the interpretation of the town’s legal counsel, counts prisoners at MCI-Cedar Junction as residents of Precinct 5, giving that precinct more political clout in Town Meeting. A recent report from the Prison Policy Initiative suggests that Town Counsel could use a different interpretation of the charter to stop counting inmates.

If the Cranston suit succeeds, Walpole could face an expensive legal suit if the current practice of counting Cedar Junction prisoners continues. Selectmen should move full speed ahead with changing the charter to address this inequity, or use a different interpretation as suggested by the PPI.


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