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Fixing prison-based gerrymandering after the 2010 Census: South Carolina

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 local level:

  • Richland County’s 7th County Council district, drawn after the 2000 Census, reached its required population of 29,152 by including almost 5,000 people incarcerated in state and county correctional facilities as if they were residents of the district. Padding the district in this way gave every group of 92 residents in the district as much influence over county affairs as 100 residents in other districts.
  • The counties of Allendale, Edgefield, Lancaster, Lee, Marlboro, and McCormick all avoided prison-based gerrymandering by excluding the prison population prior to drawing the county legislative districts after the 2000 Census.
  • More research needs to be done, especially in Clarendon county because these counties contain large prisons relative to their actual population, and in Williamsburg County which had a new federal prison built during the last decade. Unless the prison populations were removed from the redistricting base after the last Census, these communities may have one or more districts that are significantly padded with non-resident prison populations. See the Democracy Toolkit for a suggested research methodology.

South Carolina law says a prison cell is not a residence:

  • “(A) A person's residence is his domicile. ‘Domicile’ means a person's fixed home where he has an intention of returning when he is absent. A person has only one domicile.

    “(B) For voting purposes, a person has changed his domicile if he (1) has abandoned his prior home and (2) has established a new home, has a present intention to make that place his home, and has no present intention to leave that place.”

    (South Carolina Annotated Code §7-1-25.)

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 South Carolina 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:

  • A list of new large prisons built in South Carolina 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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