New York Times: “Playing the Inmate Card Skews Redistricting” in Texas

by Leah Sakala, September 30, 2011  

This morning, the New York Times printed an article on how prison-based gerrymandering distorts democracy in Texas.

Making some savvy observations about how prison-based gerrymandering is an issue for both state and local governments, the Times reports:

In Anderson County — and in Bee, Karnes or Walker Counties — a significant part of the population is in prison. State prisoners in each of those places account for at least 19 percent of the total county population. Each Texas county has four county commissioners, elected from districts of equal size.

Inmates can’t vote, so counties can ignore the prison populations when they draw those districts. For redistricting purposes at the county level, the prisoners simply don’t exist.

The state, on the other hand, counts them, adding to the populations of districts that have large prisons. Because rural legislators like Representatives Jose Aliseda, Byron Cook, Tim Kleinschmidt and John Otto, all Republicans, have prisons in their districts, they each have big populations of ineligible voters — criminals who aren’t included in county maps, who can’t vote, and who don’t really have a stake in local affairs.

And maybe they shouldn’t: The prisoners don’t come from those counties. They tend to come from the state’s populous counties, like Harris and Dallas. And in Harris County’s case, not counting them as residents means one state representative fewer in the local delegation.

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