Voting rights issues map includes prison-based gerrymandering
by Aleks Kajstura, November 8, 2010
The NAACP Legal Defense Fund created an interactive map highlighting key voting rights issues across the United States. Prison-based gerrymandering was included among Voting Rights Act violations, voter purging, access to polling places, and other issues standing in the face of fair elections.
Examples of prison-based gerrymandering include:
Both Harris and Dallas counties, the largest counties in Texas, lose the most people when prisoners are counted in prison districts rather than their actual residences. Harris County, for instance, makes up 16.3 percent of the state’s population, but supplies 21.5 percent of the state’s prisoners, losing about 25,000 people in its Census count.
Native American and Latino communities are overrepresented in the Idaho prison system, yet they are counted in the Census as residents of their prison rather than their home communities. These disfranchised prisoners lend political power to prison towns even though they are not deemed constituents of the representatives who serve these areas.
Seven of Oklahoma’s House districts meet the federal minimal population requirements because incarcerated citizens are counted as residents of the district in which their prison is located.
In addition to prison-based gerrymandering problems in other states, the LDF also highlights work already done in Delaware, Maryland, and New York:
Progress: In September 2010, the governor of Delaware signed House Bill 284, which requires that prison inmates be counted at their place of residence prior to incarceration, marking an important step in the effort to end the long practice of prison-based gerrymandering.
Progress: This year, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley signed into law the No Representation Without Population Act. This Act will help ensure that individuals who are in prison are counted in their home districts rather than the districts where they are currently incarcerated during redistricting.
Progress: LDF congratulates the New York State Senate and Governor Patterson for ending prison-based gerrymandering in New York. This courageous decision will bring New York’s redistricting process in line with basic principles of democracy, and will serve as a model for other states in the effort to count incarcerated populations correctly in the next round of redistricting.