Fixing prison-based gerrymandering after the 2010 Census: Georgia

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 state level:

  • Nine Georgia House Districts drawn after the 2000 Census derived more than 5% of their required population from incarcerated, disenfranchised people. One district was almost 11% incarcerated, giving every 89 people who live in that district with the prison as much influence as 100 people who live in another other district in the state that does not contain a large prison. Those districts:
    District Percent of
    required population
    that is in a
    correctional facility
    District 141 10.9%
    District 166 9.0%
    District 144 7.3%
    District 176 6.6%
    District 55 6.3%
    District 58 5.7%
    District 177 5.6%
    District 89 5.5%
    District 154 5.4%

Impact at the local level:

  • After the 2000 Census:
    • Residents of Butts County District 3 were given twice as much influence over county affairs as residents of other districts because 49% of District 3 was incarcerated at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Center.
    • Other counties had significant prison-based gerrymandering problems: 37% of Baldwin County District 4 and 17% of District 2; 13% of Coffee County District 2; 20% of Dodge County District 2; 23% of Evans County District 1; 17% of Habersham District 3; 29% of Mitchell County District 2; 22% of Treutlen County District 5; 20% of Washington County District 2; and 34% of Wayne County District 4 was incarcerated, granting the actual residents of those districts more political clout in the county than residents of other districts, which had the required number of residents.
    • Several cities and counties rejected the Census Bureau's prison count and avoid prison-based gerrymandering: The cities of Garden City and Milledgeville and the counties of Calhoun, Dooly, Macon, Tattnall, Telfair and Wilcox avoided prison-based gerrymandering by not including the prison populations in their districts when drawing city or county lines. As a result, each district had an equal population of actual residents.
  • More research needs to be done in Montgomery County as the county contains a large prison population relative to its actual population. Unless the prison populations were removed from the redistricting base after the last Census, the county has one or more districts that are significantly padded with non-resident prison populations. See the Democracy Toolkit for a suggested research methodology.
  • A Census 2000 error that apparently missed the Stewart Correctional Center allowed Johnson County to avoid deciding whether to adjust the Census or to engage in prison-based gerrymandering. The 2010 Census will presumably not make the same error, and the county will need to determine if it wishes to make the Stewart Facility into a district all by itself.

Georgia law says a prison cell is not a residence:

  • Incarceration is not a voluntary movement, so a prison cell is not a residence under Georgia law:

    A person shall not be considered to have gained a residence in any county or municipality of this state into which such person has come for temporary purposes only without the intention of making such county or municipality such person’s permanent place of abode. (Georgia Annotated Code § 21-2-217(3).)

Other 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 Georgia should ask the Census Bureau for this change for 2020.

Additional resources:

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