Prisons Warp the Vote

Brett Blank just posted an interesting article discussing how districts that contain prisons get more political weight then those that do not have them:


Prisons Warp the Vote

…apportionment plans must be based on population and where voters reside should not affect the power of their vote. As a result, an industry or other economic interest can only exert political influence in proportion to the number of people that support it. The Reynolds case intended to permanently the settle the question of whether other interests besides population can be the basis of representative democracy.

Except it didn’t.

The Census Bureau counts people in prison where their bodies are located on census day, not where they come from and where they will return, on average, 34 months later. Forty-eight states bar prisoners from voting, and most states have constitutional clauses or election law statutes which explicitly declare that prisoner remains legal residents of their home addresses. When states draw districts based on the Census Bureau’s padded counts of prison locales, they give those districts extra representation just because the prison industry has a facility there.


Of the 12,594 people in the district containing the New Hampshire State Prison, 11 percent are incarcerated. As a result, every group of 89 residents in this prison district has the same political power as 100 residents elsewhere in the state.

The article references an advocacy site for this issue called Prisoners of the Census. That site has some good information about the issue including historical background for why the Census counts prisons in this way and arguments for why it is appropriate to change the way that prisoners are counted but not to change the way that college students are counted.

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