Fixing prison-based gerrymandering after the 2010 Census: Illinois

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:

  • After the 2000 Census:
    • Without using prison populations as padding, 11 Illinois House districts derived 2 or more percent of their population from poeple incarcerated at correctional facilities located withn the districts.
    • For example, each House district in Illinois should have had 105,248 residents. District 91, however, had only 101,672 actual residents.
    • Crediting all of Illinois’ incarcerated people to a few locations, far from home, enhances the political clout of the people who live near prisons, while diluting voting power of all other Illinoisans.

Impact at the local level:

  • After the 2000 Census:
    • In Lee County, County District 4 derived nearly 25% of its population from a federal prison; effectively giving each group of 75 people in District 4 as much political clout as 100 people elsewhere. Similar problems exist in Clinton, Rock Island, and Vermilion counties.
    • 10 Illinois counties with large prisons adjusted the Census count, removing the prison population before redistricting to avoid vote dilution in their districts.
    • Six Illinois cities, Canton, Crest Hill, Danville, Galesburg, Pontiac, and Vandalia, each rejected the Census Bureau's prison miscount when drawing districts on the basis of actual resident populations.
  • Unless the city of Jacksonville takes corrective action after the 2010 Census, a prison in the city will constitute 25% of a city council district, giving every group of 3 people who live immediately adjacent to the prison as much of a say over the future of the city as every group of 4 residents in other parts of the city.
  • Unless Lawrence County takes corrective action after the 2010 Census, a the Lawrence Correctional Center (built in 2001) could become a district all by itself.

Illinois law says a prison cell is not a residence:

  • “A person confined in prison under the judgment and sentence of a court does not thereby change his residence.” (County of Franklin v. County of Henry County, 26 Ill.App. 193 (Ill.App. 2 Dist. 1887).)
  • Illinois courts have also explicitly upheld the exclusion of prisoners from a county's apportionment base. In Knox County Democratic Committee, the Illinois Appellate Court upheld the County Board's decision to exclude prisoners after the 1990 Census, noting that:

    "[h]ad the Board adopted the plaintiffs' position and automatically included an extra 1,248 ineligible voters in a single district, there would have been substantially fewer eligible voters in that district when compared to the other four districts. Thus, the eligible voters in that district would have possessed a disproportionate share of voting power. Accordingly, the Board excluded the non-voting inmates when constructing the districts."

Pending legislation (as of March 2011):

  • Rep. LaShawn K. Ford has introduced legislation in the Illinois General Assembly (Prisoner Census Adjustment Act, HB94) that will address this critical issue. The bill was amended in and passed out of committee, and is now awaiting a second reading. The legislation would have required Illinois to adjust the Census figures and draw districts based on people in prison being counted in their home communities.

Other solutions:

  • All Illinois counties that contain prisons should adopt similar solutions to the ten counties who already base their districts on actual, not prison populations, even if the Illinois legislature does not pass the state-wide bill in time.
  • 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 Illinois should ask the Census Bureau for this change for 2020.

Additional resources:

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