Fixing prison-based gerrymandering after the 2010 Census: Minnesota

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:
    • Each House district in Minnesota should have had 36,713 residents. District 56A, which claims the populations of two large prisons, however, had only 35,066 actual residents.
    • Without using prison populations as padding, three districts were missing more than 3% of their required population.
  • Crediting all of Minnesota’s incarcerated people to a few locations enhances the political clout of the people who live near prisons, while diluting voting power of all other Minnesotans.

Impact at the local level:

  • After the 2000 Census:
    • In Waseca County, District 5 derived 24% of its population from a federal prison; effectively giving each group of 76 people in District 5 as much political clout as 100 people elsewhere.
    • Rice County and the City of Rochester had similar problems caused by prison-based gerrymandering.
    • In Pine County, District 5 derived 15% of its population from the FCI Sandstone federal prison; effectively giving each group of 85 people in District 5 as much political clout as 100 people elsewhere.
  • Swift County, which had a district that was 53% incarcerated after the 2000 Census, giving the residents of the district with the prison more than twice the influence of residents in other districts, will avoid prison-based gerrymandering after the 2010 Census because the private prison in the county closed shortly before the 2010 Census was taken.
  • Unless corrective action is taken, Waseca City will be drawing a district that is 1/3rd incarcerated, giving some residents significantly more political power than the residents of districts that do not contain the prison. The city narrowly avoided the problem after the 2000 Census, due a Census Bureau error that erroneously placed the prison just outside the city limits.
  • More research needs to be done in the Sherburne County as the county contains a large prison population relative to their 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.

Minnesota law says a prison cell is not a residence:

  • The Minnesota Constitution states that, “no person loses residence... while confined in any public prison.” (Article VII, ยง 2.)

Pending legislation (as of March 2010):

  • Senator Higgins and Rep. Champion introduced a bill (SF 3097/HF 3536) that would prohibit padding legislative districts with prison populations. The bill would prohibit districts with prisons from exerting undue influence over all other districts.

Other solutions:

  • The state can change the statutory definition of population used to control county and municipal redistricting.
  • 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 Minnesota should ask the Census Bureau for this change for 2020.

Additional resources:

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