McAlester, OK, faces drawing city wards distorted by prison population
by Aleks Kajstura, April 6, 2011
McAlester’s new City Charter may inadvertently force the City to engage in prison-based gerrymandering. McAlester had previously excluded the prison population located within City limits when drawing wards, this allowed them to give equal representation to all McAlester residents in the City Council. Although the Census Bureau is about to provide Advance Group Quarters Data to make the population adjustment process easier for the next decade, the Ward Commission is interpreting the new City Charter as disallowing any adjustment of the original data provided by the Census.
Wes Carter, writing for the McAlester News Capital, explains:
The result of adding inmates to city wards will have drastic effects on the make-up of the city. The prison population at the moment is scheduled to be located in ward 4. Inmates will make up approximately two-thirds of the population. …
When disbursed equally, each city council member will represent 3,333 people. However, Ward 4, which is where both prisons are located, will have 2,000 inmates and 1, 333 citizens in its district. The Ward 4 council member will represent 39 percent of what the other council members represent; however, he will have the same amount of responsibility.…
“It seems this wouldn’t be fair,” said Ward 4 Councilmen Robert Karr. “Prisoners can’t vote so I can’t really represent them.”
Not only would it be hard for an elected official to represent inmates, the smaller voting block would dilute the votes of voters in the other five wards.
“I think it is fair the way we have done it in the past,” said Karr. “Hopefully common sense will prevail.”
The two quoted stories by Mr. Carter were both published in their entirety only in print editions of the McAlester News Capital:
City ward boundaries to be re-drawn after census, March 24, 2011
Feds: Prison populations not required in McAlester ward re-districting, March 30, 2011