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:

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:

map of Anamosa districts

by Peter Wagner, October 20, 2008

According to the Chippewa Herald, the construction of new state prisons in Chippewa County, Wisconsin has inflated county population estimates, making the county appear to be the 4th fastest growing county in the state. The population estimates were prepared by the state, but are based on U.S. Census methodology that counts people in prison as residents of the prison location. Depending on how the data is used, crediting thousands of prisoners to the wrong spot can create a mildly annoyingor amusing — distortion in a county’s statistical image.

But Chippewa County is about to experience a far more serious impact from the prison miscount that could radically dilute the political power of almost every county resident over their own government.

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