Fixing prison-based gerrymandering after the 2010 Census: Wisconsin
50 State Guide, March 2010
- Impact at the state level
- Impact at the local level
- Wisconsin law says a prison cell is not a residence
- Pending legislation
- 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 state level:
- Milwaukee County contains 18% of the state population but is 42% of its prisoners come from the county. Virtually all of the state’s prison cells are located outside of the county.
- State legislative district 53, drawn after the 2000 Census, contained 5,131 prisoners from
other parts of the state. This artificially decreased the
population of the district by almost 10%. In effect, each group of 9
residents in District 53 had as much political power as 10
residents elsewhere in the state.
- Wisconsin has historically drawn
legislative districts so that their population-sizes are within 2%
of the average. But by counting incarcerated individuals as part of the
districts in which they are incarcerated, Wisconsin awards greater political
representation to districts with prisons than to those without
Impact at the local level:
- Because the Census numbers used to draw county districts after the 2000 Census included non-resident prison populations,
every resident in districts 8, 29 and 31 of Dodge County has twice
the influence of residents of county districts without prisons.
- The full list of cities and counties where prisons were used to distort the weight of a vote cast for local government after the 2000 Census:
Wisconsin cities and counties where relying on the Census for redistricting creates serious problems for democracy after the 2000 Census. (We also looked at Oshkosh City in Winnebago Co., Fond du Lac City in Fond Du Lac Co., Allouez Village in Brown Co., and Sturtevant Village in Racine Co., but these cities and villages are not affected because their local government is elected at large rather than from districts. Marquette County’s districts were not affected by the prisoner miscount because the county and state concluded that the census erred in placing the Federal Oxford prison in Marquette, when it is actually located in Adams County.) This table is updated from Importing Constituents: Prisoners and Political Clout in Wisconsin with the downsized districts in Fond du Lac County.
|County District ||Percent of district’s population that is in prison ||Resulting Vote Distortion
|Adams 5 & 6 ||64% ||9 votes here = 25 elsewhere
|Brown 14 ||22% ||39 votes here = 50 elsewhere
|Columbia 8 ||47% ||27 votes here = 50 elsewhere
|Dane 33 ||6% ||47 votes here = 50 elsewhere
|Dodge 29 ||53% ||47 votes here = 100 elsewhere
|Dodge 31 ||59% ||41 votes here = 100 elsewhere
|Dodge 35 ||10% ||9 votes here = 10 elsewhere
|Dodge 8 ||54% ||23 votes here = 50 elsewhere
|Fond du Lac 18 ||18% ||82 votes here = 100 elsewhere
|Jackson 10, 11, 12 and 19 ||24% ||19 votes here = 25 elsewhere
|Racine 13 ||17% ||83 votes here = 100 elsewhere
|Sheboygan 22 ||6% ||47 votes here = 50 elsewhere
|Sheboygan 32 ||25% ||3 votes here = 4 elsewhere
|Winnebago 12 ||42% ||58 votes here = 100 elsewhere
|Winnebago 30 ||16% ||21 votes here = 25 elsewhere
|City District |
|Fitchburg City 4 ||14% ||43 votes here = 50 elsewhere
|Franklin City 1 ||38% ||31 votes here = 50 elsewhere
|Waupun City 2 ||63% ||37 votes here = 100 elsewhere
|Waupun City 3 ||79% ||21 votes here = 100 elsewhere
- In addition, the construction of new prisons in Chippewa, Juneau, and Waushara counties over the last decade will, unless corrective action is taken, result in drawing districts where a handful of residents near a prison will be given 3 or more times as much political influence as residents in other parts of the counties.
Wisconsin law says a prison cell is not a residence:
6.10 of Wisconsin’s election laws provides that a person’s
residence is determined by "where the person’s
habitation is fixed, without any present intent to move, and to
which, when absent, the person intends to return." Since most
incarcerated people intend to leave prison and do not intend to
return, prison is not their residence.
Pending legislation (as of March 2010):
- In 2009, State Representatives Frederick Kessler, Spencer
Black, Tamara Grigsby, Robert Turner and Annette Polly Williams, as
well as State Senator Lena Taylor, introduced Assembly
Joint Resolution 63 to amend the Wisconsin Constitution to
require the state and local governments to draw legislature
districts on the basis of Census Bureau data adjusted to
exclude the prison populations. The Prison Policy
Initiative has produced a factsheet [PDF]
about this amendment.
- 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 Wisconsin should ask the Census Bureau for this change for 2020.
- Importing Constituents: Prisoners and Political Clout in Wisconsin, is a district-by-district analysis of prison-based gerrymandering in Wisconsin state legislative and county districts.
- Wisconsin resource page is an actively maintained list of links to fact sheets, news articles, endorsements and other resources on prison-based gerrymandering in Wisconsin.
Fuzzy Math: Is the Census Bureau creating unfair politics in Wisconsin?, by Evan Solochek, Milwaukee Magazine March 2008
- A list of new large prisons built in Wisconsin since the 2000 Census. These prisons are likely to create new prison-based gerrymandering problems after their populations are counted in the 2010 Census.