Interactive Democracy Toolkit helps grassroots democracy activists
by Peter Wagner, April 10, 2007
Today the Prison Policy Initiative launched the Democracy Toolkit, a set of online tools designed to help rural citizens determine if prison populations in legislative districts are diluting their right to equal representation. Despite the fact that people in prison remain legal residents of the place they lived prior to their incarceration, the Census Bureau counts people in prison as if they were willing residents of the prison location.
If used for redistricting, these Census counts of the prison populations can seriously distort county decision making. Because county district sizes tend to be relatively small, a single prison can have a significant impact. For example, if a district’s population is one-half prisoners, the resident population of that district would have twice the voting power of other districts in the county.
“This groundbreaking toolkit is incredibly useful in the grassroots effort to ensure equal representation for all,” says Dan Jenkins, a voting rights activist in Franklin County, New York. “County legislatures need citizen oversight, and the Democracy Toolkit offers step-by-step guidance to help activists ensure that voting rights are not diluted or distorted by the Census Bureau’s mistakes.”
The toolkit offers step-by-step instructions to help residents of rural communities with prisons determine whether including prisoners in the population base harms their access to government, to quantify that harm, and to advocate for a better democracy. The toolkit includes the Correctional Facility Locator, which provides a simple interface to locate prison populations in the Census. The toolkit is designed to analyze county legislatures, but can also be used for other forms of district-based government at the regional, county and local level, including city councils and school boards.
The Democracy Toolkit is available at: