Fixing prison-based gerrymandering after the 2010 Census: Oregon

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, House District 60 drew 5% of its population from the Snake River Correctional Facility, not from local residents. This gave every group of 95 people in that district as much influence as 100 people in any other district in the state.

Impact at the local level:

  • Unless the City of Pendleton takes corrective action in 2011, they will be drawing a city council ward that is 28% prisoners. Every 3 residents who live next to the prison will be given as much influence over the future of their city as every group of 4 residents in the other wards. (The city hasn’t updated its legislative district boundaries since 1982, before the prison opened.)
  • The city of Salem drew 2 wards after the 2000 Census that were about 12% prisoners. The Supreme Court has set the allowable population deviation at 5% for a presumed legitimate purpose. Here, we have a districts with larger deviations for a clearly illegitimate purpose.

Oregon law says a prison cell is not a residence:

  • “For the purpose of voting, no person shall be deemed to have gained, or lost a residence … while confined in any public prison.” Ore. Const. Art IV § 4.

Pending legislation (as of March 2010):

  • Senate Bill 1028, sponsored by Senator Shields, Senator Rosenbaum, and Representatives Holvey, Kahl, and Kotek, introduced on February 1, 2010 did not pass during the special session. Senator Shields plans to reintroduce it in the 2011 session.

Other 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 Oregon 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:

  • Oregon resource page is an actively maintained list of links to fact sheets, news articles, endorsements and other resources on prison-based gerrymandering in Oregon.
  • A list of new large prisons built in Oregon since the 2000 Census. These prisons are likely to create new prison-based gerrymandering problems after their populations are counted in the 2010 Census.
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