Fixing prison-based gerrymandering after the 2010 Census: New Hampshire
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 state level:
- New Hampshire has one of the lowest incarceration rates in the nation, yet relying on the prisoner miscount to draw districts creates a serious vote dilution problem.
- Of the 12,594 people in the State House district drawn after the 2000 Census that contains the New Hampshire State Prison, 11 percent were incarcerated. As a result, every group of 89 residents in this prison district had the same political power as 100 residents elsewhere in the state.
Impact at the local level:
- Concord's District 3, drawn after the 2000 Census, was 41% prisoners, including 1356 from the New Hampshire State Prison. This means that every 59 residents in District 3 had as much political power as 100 residents in other districts.
New Hampshire law says a prison cell is not a residence:
- “The domicile for voting purposes of a person confined in a penal institution shall be the town or city in New Hampshire in which such person had his or her domicile immediately prior to such confinement, even though such person no longer maintains a domicile in said town or city and even though his or her intent to return thereto is uncertain.” (New Hampshire Revised Statutes § 654:2-a(1).)
- 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 New Hampshire should ask the Census Bureau for this change for 2020.
- Prisons Warp Vote: essay on why “one person, one vote” is important. Prior to that Supreme Court rule, districts were based on wealth in New Hampshire.