Contact Peter Wagner (413) 527-0845
January 15 - A centuries-old glitch in the Census is creating big problems for democracy in Maine’s Regional School Unit 13, charges a new report. The governance structure for the new School District unintentionally gives one of the six towns in the district disproportionate influence over the future of education in the region. The reason? The town of Thomaston used to contain the Maine State Prison.
The report, Phantom Constituents in Maine’s Regional School Unit 13, finds that basing the school board’s governance system on Census counts of prisoners dilutes the votes of people in Cushing, Owls Head, Rockland, South Thomaston, and St. George. By relying on these faulty Census counts, which included the inmates at Maine State Prison in the counts of Thomaston’s population, the designers of the school district have unintentionally enhanced Thomaston’s influence on the school board. Every group of 10 Thomaston residents have the same power over school district decisions as each group of 11 residents in the other towns.
The Supreme Court’s “One Person One Vote” rule requires that every resident have, via districts or weighted voting, the same access to government.
“It is not fair to dilute the votes of my constituents in St. George just because there used to be a prison in Thomaston,” said Josiah Wilson, candidate for RSU 13 school board.
“This Census glitch creates big problems for school boards,” says Peter Wagner, author of the report and Executive Director of the non-profit Prison Policy Initiative. “When school boards rely on flawed Census data, they end up diluting the votes of all their residents who don’t live near a prison.”
The Prison Policy Initiative is the leading authority on how prisons affect redistricting and representation in the United States. “How the Census counts people in prison is a rarely-noticed problem,” said Wagner, “but it is important that the public know how the Census is diluting their votes.” The author is optimistic about change, noting that — with one exception — every time the public has learned that prisons are distorting their access to local government, the voting structure has been changed to exclude prison populations.
The report includes two alternative weighted voting systems that would give the population of each town equal power over school board decisions and urges the new school board to implement one of them upon taking office.
The report, Phantom Constituents in Maine’s Regional School Unit 13: How the Census Bureau’s outdated method of counting prisoners harms democracy is available at http://www.prisonersofthecensus.org/maine/