Fixing prison-based gerrymandering after the 2010 Census: New Mexico

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:

  • Two districts drawn after the 2000 Census include more than 1,000 incarcerated people as constituents. The actual residents of districts 8 and 62 are being granted about 4% more influence than the residents of each other district.

Impact at the local level:

  • In the city of Hobbs, 21% of people in District 5, drawn after the 2000 Census, were incarcerated at the Lea County Correctional Facility. This means that every 79 residents in District 5 had as much political power as 100 residents in the other districts.
  • Aztec City rejected the Census Bureau's prison miscount, and drew districts based on actual resident populations after the 2000 Census.
  • New prisons constructed in Cibola and Union counties over the last decade will require county officials to decide for the first time if they intend to use the Census Bureau's prison counts to give extra influence to the residents who live near the prisons, or if all residents should be given the same access to local government.

New Mexico law says a prison cell is not a residence:

  • New Mexico law states that “a person does not gain or lose residence solely by reason of his presence or absence… while confined in a public prison.” (New Mexico Statutes ยง1-1-7(D).)


  • 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 New Mexico should ask the Census Bureau for this change for 2020. In the mean time, the New Mexico should draw legislative districts that do not include the prison populations counted in the wrong place.

Additional resources:

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