Fixing prison-based gerrymandering after the 2010 Census: Alabama

50 State Guide, March 2010

Prison-based gerrymandering violates the constitutional principle of “One Person, One Vote.” The Supreme Court requires districts to be based on equal population in order to give each resident the same access to government. But a longstanding flaw in the Census counts incarcerated people as residents of the prison location, even though they can’t vote and aren’t a part of the surrounding community.

When legislators claim people incarcerated in their districts are legitimate constituents, they award people who live close to the prison more of a say in government than everybody else.

Impact at the local level:

  • Afte the 2000 Census, Escambia County rejected the Census Bureau's prison count when drawing county commission districts. Otherwise the people who live near the prison would have had 10% more political influence than residents of other county districts.
  • Substantial prison-based gerrymandering problems existed after the 2000 Census in Bibb, Coosa, and Talladega counties. In Bibb county, for example, District 5 was 22% incarcerated, giving some residents more influence than others.
  • More research needs to be done, especially in the counties of Bullock, Barbour, and Limestone. (These communities contain large prisons relative to their actual population.) Unless the prison populations were removed from the redistricting base after the last Census, these communities have one or more districts that are significantly padded with non-resident prison populations. See the Democracy Toolkit for a suggested research methodology.

Alabama law says a prison cell is not a residence:

  • “No person shall lose or acquire a domicile either by temporary absence from his or her domicile without the intention of remaining.” (Code of Alabama § 17-3-32)

Solutions:

  • Ideally, the U.S. Census Bureau would change where it counts incarcerated people. They should be counted as residents of their home — not prison — addresses. There is no time for that in 2010, but Alabama should ask the Census Bureau for this change for 2020.
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