Fixing prison-based gerrymandering after the 2010 Census: Ohio

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:

  • Without using prison populations as padding, one Ohio House district drawn after the 2000 Census did not meet constitutional population requirements.
  • After the 2000 Census, Each House district in Ohio should have had 114,678 residents. District 85 (Ross, Pickaway and Fayette Counties), however, had only 104,443 actual residents. This gave every 91 residents of District 85 as much say over state affairs as 100 people elsewhere.
  • Crediting all of Ohio’s 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 Ohioans.

Impact at the local level:

  • In the city of Mansfield, Ward 5, drawn after the 2000 Census, derived 60% of its population from two large prisons; effectively giving every 4 residents of Ward 5 the same political clout as 10 residents elsewhere in the city. Other Ohio cities have the same problem, such as Marysville (Ward 3 was 55% prisoners), Youngstown (Ward 3 was 10% prisoners) and Marion (Ward 1 was 32% prisoners).
  • The city of Lima, which contains Lima Correctional Institute, adjusted Census data when it redistricted after the 2000 Census, by removing the prison population before redistricting the city avoided vote dilution in their districts.

Ohio law says a prison cell is not a residence:

  • Under Ohio law, a person resides “where he has his true, fixed, permanent home and principal establishment, and to which, whenever he is absent, he has the intention of returning.… It is not, however, necessary, that he should intend to remain there for all time. If he lives in a place, with the intention of remaining for an indefinite period of time, as a place of fixed present domicile, and not as a place of temporary establishment, or for mere transient objects, it is to all intents, and for all purposes, his residence…” Wickham v. Coyer, 20 Ohio C.D. 765 (1900) (citations omitted).

Other solutions:

  • All Ohio municipalities that contain prisons should adopt similar solutions to the city of Lima, which already bases its districts on actual, not prison populations.
  • 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 Ohio should ask the Census Bureau for this change for 2020.
  • After the 2010 Census, the state and its local governments should, to the degree possible, count incarcerated people as residents of their home communities for redistricting purposes. Where that is not feasible, incarcerated people should be treated as providing unknown addresses instead of being used to pad the legislative districts that contain prisons.

Additional resources:

Tweet this page Follow @PrisonPolicy on Twitter Get our newsletter Donate Contact Us


Nothing scheduled right now. Invite us to to your city, college or organization.