Mary Sanchez highlights prison-based gerrymandering in Kansas

by Aleks Kajstura, February 18, 2010

In “Counting prisoners is an issue for us all,” Mary Sanchez, of the Kansas City Star, writes that “elected officials wind up with constituents to whom they don’t have to answer at the ballot box.”

In all but two states, felons in prison can’t vote. So the standard of one person, one vote is distorted by building legislative districts based on head counts of people who can’t cast ballots, and where many only temporarily live via a prison sentence.

Recently, the Census Bureau announced that it will release data on group quarters, which include prisons, earlier than usual – in May 2011. This new data will give state and local governments the choice to account for their prison populations when drawing district lines for the next decade.

Rep. William Lacy Clay, chairman of the Subcommittee on Information Policy, Census & National Archives, led the charge for the change. …

“The impact of this decision is enormous. States and local governments will now have the opportunity to do the right thing and prevent the overrepresentation of areas where prisons are located,” according to Clay.

The operative words are “have the opportunity.” States don’t have to do anything after the prison counts by the census are released in May 2011.

But they ought to do what upholds democracy.

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