Fixing prison-based gerrymandering after the 2010 Census: North Dakota

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.

North Dakota law says a prison cell is not a residence:

  • “A prison cell is not a residence in North Dakota because a residence is where one chooses to be and return to when one is not being called away to other places for temporary purposes.” (N.D. Cent. Code, § 54-01-26.)

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 North Dakota should ask the Census Bureau for this change for 2020.
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