Fixing prison-based gerrymandering after the 2010 Census: Utah

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:

  • The 41st House District drawn after the 2000 Census has fewer actual constituents than any other district in the state because it includes the Utah State Prison. About 12% of the district's population is derived from this incarcerated population that is prohibited from voting. Padding this district with incarcerated people gives each group of 88 residents of the district as much influence as 100 residents in any other district in the state.

Utah law says a prison cell is not a residence:

  • “(i) A person who is involuntarily confined or incarcerated in a jail, prison, or other facility within a voting precinct is not a resident of that voting precinct and may not register to vote in that voting precinct unless the person was a resident of that voting precinct before the confinement or incarceration.

    (ii) A person who is involuntarily confined or incarcerated in a jail or prison is resident of the voting precinct in which the person resided before the confinement or incarceration.”

    (Utah Annotated Code §20A-2-101(2)(a).)


  • 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 Utah should ask the Census Bureau for this change for 2020.
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