A portrait of Peter Wagner.
Peter Wagner
Executive Director
I need your help. For 14 years, the Prison Policy Initiative has been at the forefront of the movement to keep the prison system from exerting undue influence on our electoral process. Our work has changed how our democracy works in 4 states and hundreds of local governments. We've even won at the Supreme Court, but our long-term viability depends on people like you investing in our work.

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—Peter Wagner
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California has enacted legislation to end the practice of treating incarcerated individuals, for redistricting purposes, as residents of the districts where they are temporarily confined.

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.

AB 420 will take effect for the 2020 round of redistricting, requiring the Department of Corrections to report the home addresses of incarcerated people to the Citizens Redistricting Commission so that the Commission may count incarcerated people at home for redistricting purposes.

The state legislature and some municipalities have previously counted incarcerated people as residents of the prison location, inflating the local population counts used for legislative districts. Padding legislative districts with prison populations artificially enhances the weight of a vote cast in those districts at the expense of all districts that do not contain a prison.


AB 1986, An act to amend Section 21003 of the Elections Code, relating to redistricting, introduced by Assembly Member Davis, amended March 29, 2012. Passed the Assembly on May 7, 2012. (The bill would amend the law that passed last year, adding privacy protections and covering people incarcerated in federal facilities, a full bill analysis is available from the Assembly Committee on Elections and Redistricting.)

AB 420, An act to add Section 21003 to the Elections Code, relating to redistricting was introduced by Assembly Member Davis on February 14, 2011. The bill passed the Assembly on June 1, and the Senate on August 30, and was signed by Governor Brown on October 7, 2011.

California Assemblymember Mike Davis talks about his bill to end prison gerrymandering on Uprising Radio, July 29, 2011


It’s impossible to include everyone who is working toward fair districting in California, the following is a sample of the organizations that gave early support to the current legislation:

  • NAACP Legal Defense Fund
  • Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights
  • League of Women Voters
  • Drug Policy Alliance
  • Legal Serves for Prisoners with Children
  • Friends Committee on Legislation
  • Prison Policy Initiative
  • Greater Sacramento Urban League
  • Advancement Project
  • Ella Baker Center for Human Rights
  • First AME
  • California Black Pastors Association
  • Californians United for a Responsible Budget (CURB)

A longer list of supporting organizations can be found in Assembly Member Davis' fact sheet about the bill.


Additional reading

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