Fixing prison-based gerrymandering after the 2010 Census: Maine

50 State Guide, March 2010

Impact at the local level
Maine law says a prison cell is not a residence
Other solutions
Additional resources

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.

Impact at the local level:

  • Regional School Unit 13 based its apportionment on Census Bureau estimates for 2006 that credited the town of Thomaston with the population of the Maine State Prison that had closed 4 years prior.

    The Regional School Unit gave Thomaston credit for 426 people who are neither legal residents of Thomason nor physically located in Thomaston. (The prison is now in Warren.)

    Padding Thomaston’s population with 426 prisoners enhances each Thomaston vote by 8.96% over its ideal value. Because votes that should have been allocated to other towns are instead wielded by Thomaston, the number of votes assigned to the other towns are reduced by 1.69% to 3.24%.

    The almost 9% deviation in Thomaston is significantly more than the 5% deviation allowed by Supreme Court decisions for a single district, and the combined deviation of 12.2% between Thomaston and the most negatively affected town is also larger than the maximum deviation allowed by controlling Supreme Court precedent.

    In sum, using a closed prison to inflate Thomaston’s population allows 9 Thomaston residents the same say as 10 residents of other towns. This gives people outside of Thomaston less of a say over the education of RSU13’s children as those who reside in Thomaston.

Maine law says a prison cell is not a residence:

  • “a person does not gain or lose a residence solely because of the person’s presence or absence … while kept in any institution at public expense.” (Maine Annotated Revised Statutes title 21-A, §112(14).)

Other solutions:

  • Ideally, the U.S. Census Bureau would change where it counts incarcerated people. They should be counted as residents of their home — not prison — addresses. There is no time for that in 2010, but Maine should ask the Census Bureau for this change for 2020.
  • The RSU 13 School Board should ask the Commissioner of the Maine Department of Education to, or the Commissioner should on her own authority, declare the RSU 13 apportionment in violation of the principles of “One Person One Vote” and order a new apportionment that does not include the prison population. Residents of the district can also sign a petition asking the Commissioner to declare the districts in violation of the principles of “One Person One Vote”.

Additional resources:

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