Census empowers, does not dictate data use

by Aleks Kajstura, March 8, 2010

Recent media coverage makes it clear that there is a misconception about basic principles of our electoral system. Many people are claiming that the Census Bureau has changed some policy and is now allowing states to exclude certain populations in the redistricting process.

Actually, the Census Bureau has no authority over districting. The Census Bureau does provide data that states can use in their individual redistricting processes. States use this data because it is easily accessible and often the only or best data available. States were never required to use this data. (Next week I will blog about a court case that expressly prohibited using Census data where using the data would have lead to unequal districts.)

The Census Bureau recently announced that it will publish group quarters population data in May 2011 (prisons are one kind of group quarters). If they wish, the states can adjust their populations, taking into consideration the location and population of prisons, when redistricting. The Bureau is simply making an existing process easier. A few states have already required their counties to make this exact adjustment in their populations when redistricting, and many more counties made such adjustments on their own.

The Census Bureau was simply responding to a need that was already there. The Census Bureau has no “new policy” regarding populations used for redistricting; that choice is, and always has been, reserved by each state and local goverment.

Tweet this page Follow @PrisonPolicy on Twitter Get our newsletter Donate


  • May 15, 2018:
    Our Policy Analyst Lucius Couloute will be at the LEDA Summit on Race and Inclusion in Holland, Michigan, presenting his research on the challenges and disadvantages people face when they are released from prison. Tickets are available on LEDA’s website.

Not near you?
Invite us to your city, college or organization.