by Peter Wagner, October 24, 2008
Sam Roberts of the New York Times has written an excellent article about Anamosa Iowa where a prison amounts to 96% of a city council ward:
Danny R. Young, a 53-year-old backhoe operator for Jones County in eastern Iowa, was elected to the Anamosa City Council with a total of two votes — both write-ins, from his wife and a neighbor.
While the Census Bureau says Mr. Young’s ward has roughly the same population as the city’s three others, or about 1,400 people, his constituents wield about 25 times more political clout.
That is because his ward includes 1,300 inmates housed in Iowa’s largest penitentiary — none of whom can vote. Only 58 of the people who live in Ward 2 are nonprisoners. That discrepancy has made Anamosa a symbol for a national campaign to change the way the Census Bureau counts prison inmates.
The article highlights the efforts of Bertha Finn, who organized a referendum last year which abolished the prison district by switching the small city to an at-large system of government. I’m quoted in the article cheering the people of Anamosa on:
“The people of Anamosa have the right idea,” Mr. Wagner said. “A small group of people should not be allowed to dominate government just because the Census Bureau counted a large prison there.”
Read the full article, Census Bureau’s Counting of Prisoners Benefits Some Rural Voting Districts on the New York Times site.
You can also read previous blog posts and reports about some of the other places discussed in the Times:
- St. Lawrence County, NY is discussed in our report Phantom constituents in the Empire State: How outdated Census Bureau methodology burdens New York counties
- Chippewa County, WI
- 21 Counties that have at least 21% of their populations behind bars
- Lake County, TN is discussed in our report
Phantom Constituents in Tennessee’s Boards of County Commissioners
If you live in a small community with a large prison, be sure to check out our Democracy Toolkit to determine if — and to what degree — prison populations are distorting your access to local government.
And finally, this map was made by our friend Adell Donaghue to illustrate the current — and soon to be abolished — unequal districts in Anamosa, Iowa: