Fixing prison-based gerrymandering after the 2010 Census: Nebraska
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.
Impact at the local level:
- The construction of the Tecumseh State Correctional Institution in Johnson County over the last decade means the County Board of Commissioners must decide between adjusting the Census and giving extra representation to residents who live near the prison. Counting people incarcerated at the prison as if they were residents of Johnson County, will create a district with over half of it's population incarcerated. This would give the actual residents of the district over twice as much influence over county affairs as anyone who lives in the other 2 districts.
Nebraska law says a prison cell is not a residence:
- A prison cell is not a residence in Nebraska because a residence must be the place that you intend to settle permanently, and when absent, that you intend to return to.(R.R.S. Neb. § 32-116.)
- 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 Nebraska should ask the Census Bureau for this change for 2020.