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Prison gerrymandering gives extra political power to legislators who have prisons in their districts. We put numbers on the problem and sparked a movement to protect our democratic process from the overgrown prison system.

Can you help us continue the fight? All gifts made this year will be automatically matched by other donors. Thank you.

Peter Wagner, Executive DirectorDonate

Fixing prison-based gerrymandering after the 2010 Census: Vermont

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:

  • The state’s prison population comes disproportionately from some cites:
    • Burlington is home for 6.1% of the state, but 8.5% of its incarcerated people.
    • Rutland is home for 2.8% of the state, but 4.8% of its incarcerated people.
    • Bennington is home for 2.6% of the state, but 4.5% of its incarcerated people.

  • Crediting the state’s incarcerated population to the census blocks that contain the state’s 8 correctional facilities serves to enhance the weight of a vote cast in those 8 districts while diluting those cast in every other district. The most significantly enhanced districts drawn after the 2000 Census are:
    • State House District Chittenden-3-10 is 3.8% incarcerated
    • State House District Orleans-2 is 3.3% incarcerated.
    • State House District Caledonia-3 is 3.1% incarcerated.
    • State House District Franklin-1 is 2.9% incarcerated.

Vermont law says a prison cell is not a residence:

  • “A person shall not gain or lose a residence solely by reason of presence or absence… while confined in a prison or correctional institution.” (Vermont Annotated Statutes, Title 17, §2122(a).)
  • In Vermont prisoners do not lose the right to vote while they are incarcerated. When they vote, they vote absentee at their home address.

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 Vermont should ask the Census Bureau for this change for 2020.

Additional resources:

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