TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A federal court in the state Capitol is considering what could be a landmark case when it comes to who represents you in local government. The case boils down to whether it's fair to count state prisoners when creating local districts.
The county told the judge that if he rules against them, they may not be able to appeal the decision.
Rural Jefferson County has five county commission districts, each with 2,900 residents. One of the districts includes a state prison.
There are about 1,200 inmates at the prison. They make up about 43 percent of the people who live in the county commission district. People in the other four districts said it isn't fair.
Whether or not to count local prisoners is left up to the local governments. The U.S. Supreme Court has said it's OK to count prisoners as long as they don't make up more than 10 percent of the population.
Residents in the county commission district, along with the ACLU and the Florida Justice Institute, are suing to have the prisoners excluded.
”What happens (when the inmates are counted) is they dilute the voting impact of the people in the other four districts of Jefferson County,” said Randall Berg, with Florida Justice Institute.
The judge repeatedly used the phrase "representational nexus," wanting to know how local government benefits the prisoners.
“Inmates deal with correctional officers every day, 24/7," said Jefferson County School Board attorney Jerry Curington. "They can’t escape them, and it’s important to them that they have a good school system so these officers understand constitutional principles and the rights of prisoners.”
Seven of Florida's counties have chosen not to count prisoners. A decision is expected in February, and if it goes against the county, dozens of other small counties could find themselves having to redraw their county commission and school board boundaries.