Samantha Osaki

  • Hosted by American Civil Liberties Union Voting Rights Project
  • Sponsored by Lavan-Harris Charitable Fund
  • Service location New York, New York
  • Law school New York University School of Law
  • Issue area Voting Rights/Electoral Participation
  • Fellowship class year 2020
  • Program Design Your Own Fellowship

The Project

Samantha works at the intersection of voting rights and criminal legal reform work, with a particular emphasis on engaging with coalition partners to push Redistricting Commissions, Departments of Corrections, and legislators to end prison-based gerrymandering.

The United States has the highest rate of incarceration in the world, with 2.3 million people—the aggregate population of 15 states—confined. The vast majority of these individuals are people of color from low socioeconomic backgrounds who are stripped of their voting rights due to their criminal records, sometimes permanently. These captive constituents are only housed in prisons for an average of 2.6 years, yet they are counted for a decade as residents of heavily white, rural areas where corrections facilities tend to be located. This policy-created problem, known as “prison gerrymandering,” unfairly inflates the political power of districts housing prisons and dilutes the representational strength of places that people who are incarcerated call home, leading legal scholars to dub it the modern-day Three-Fifths Compromise.

Sam is compelled by the intersectionality of voting rights and firmly believes that a fair count is essential for communities to effectively advocate for their needs.

Fellowship Highlights to Date

In the first year of the Fellowship, Sam has:

  • Gave virtual “town hall” presentations and spoke on panels on prison gerrymandering while creating replicable prison gerrymandering resources for ACLU affiliates across the nation.
  • Joined the ACLU affiliate in Wisconsin to fight an onerous ID procurement process.
  • Drafted declarations as part of the ACLU’s intervention in a case seeking to discard ballots lawfully cast by 127,000 drive-thru voters in Harris County, Texas.
  • Defended the rights of nearly 7 million Pennsylvanian voters whose absentee ballots were at risk of being discarded in a suit filed by the Trump Campaign during the 2020 General Election.

Next Steps

In the next six months, Sam plans to:

  • Lay the groundwork for the introduction of bills (at the federal and state level) to directly end the practice of prison gerrymandering.
  • Continue to work at the intersection of voting rights and criminal legal reform by engaging in rights restoration work and fighting onerous felon disenfranchisement laws.
  • Monitor maps that are enacted this redistricting cycle to ensure that they are fair, filing suit against states that have practiced prison or racial gerrymandering, or that have violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.
  • Continue fighting for the freedom of Crystal Mason, a Texas mother of three whose honest mistake (casting a provisional ballot at the suggestion of a poll-worker while ineligible to vote) will cost her five years in prison – unless her conviction is overturned on appeal.

Media

The Governor of Louisiana Must Veto the Proposed Redistricting Maps

Dismantling Prison Gerrymandering & Removing Barriers to Fair Representation

Amicus Brief - Adkins V. Virginia Redistricting Commission

New Census Bureau Data Offers a Chance to Dismantle Prison Gerrymandering

Redistricting: Advocates want prisoners counted where they’re from, not incarcerated

Five NYU Law graduates named 2020 Equal Justice Works Fellows

Prison gerrymandering dilutes the voting power of communities of color, entrenches systemic inequality, and weakens our democracy. The time to end that practice is now.

Sam Tañafranca Osaki /
2020 Equal Justice Works Fellow

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