Fixing prison-based gerrymandering after the 2010 Census: Nevada
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:
- Without using prison populations as padding, a Nevada Assembly district drawn after the 2000 Census does not meet constitutional population requirements.
- Each Assembly district in Nevada should have 47,578 residents. District 35 in parts of Churchill, Eureka, Humboldt, Lander, Pershing, Washoe and White Pine Counties, however, has only 45,285 actual residents. This gives every 95 residents of District 35 as much say over state affairs as 100 people elsewhere.
- Without using prison populations as padding, 3 Nevada Senate districts drawn after the 2000 Census do not meet constitutional population requirements.
- Each Senate district in Nevada should have 95,155 residents. The Capital District, which includes parts of Carson City, Douglas, Lyon, and Storey, however, has only 87,237 actual residents. This gives every 92 residents of the Capital Senate District as much say over state affairs as 100 people elsewhere.
- Crediting all of Nevada’s incarcerated people to a few locations, far from home, enhances the political clout of the people who live near prisons, while diluting voting power of all other Nevadans.
Impact at the local level:
After the 2000 Census, in Carson City, District 3 was 9.5% prisoners from Nevada State Prison. District 4 was 11.2% prisoners from North Nevada Correctional Center. This means that residents of districts 1 and 2 had their votes disproportionally diluted as they relied on actual residents to meet population requirements.
Nevada law says a prison cell is not a residence:
- “For the purpose of voting, no person shall be deemed to have gained or lost a residence solely by reason of his presence or absence… while confined in any public prison.” (Nevada Constitution, Article II, §2.)
- 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 Nevada should ask the Census Bureau for this change for 2020.
- 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 York should ask the Census Bureau for this change for 2020.