50 State Guide, March 2010
Prison-based gerrymandering violates the constitutional principle of “One Person, One Vote.” The Supreme Court requires districts to be based on equal population in order to give each resident the same access to government. But a longstanding flaw in the Census counts incarcerated people as residents of the prison location, even though they can’t vote and aren’t a part of the surrounding community.
When legislators claim people incarcerated in their districts are legitimate constituents, they award people who live close to the prison more of a say in government than everybody else.
The state requires counties to exclude the prison populations when drawing county districts. Otherwise, in Crowley County, the prison itself would be an entire district. As County Commissioner T.E. Allumbaugh said:
“It’s a bit of a joke. [The inmates] can’t vote. If they complain forever there’s a good chance I will never hear about it. There is a reason why they are in there, a reason why they don’t vote, a reason why they don’t pay taxes.”(source)
Colorado’s Constitution states unequivocally: “for the purpose of voting and eligibility to office, no person shall be deemed to have gained a residence… while confined in public prison.” (Colorado Constitution, Article VII, §4.)
And Colorado law requires counties to fix the Census Bureau’s prison miscount and draw fair districts based on actual population: “… the board of county commissioners shall change the boundaries of the commissioner districts… based on the most recent federal census of the United States minus the number of persons serving a sentence of detention or confinement in any correctional facility in the county.” (Colorado Revised Statutes §30-10-306.7(5)(a).)