Does 1=3 in Jackson County Arkansas?

Using prison populations to pad an Ark. Justice of the Peace district gives those residents 3 times the political power of residents in other districts.

by Peter Wagner, February 18, 2011

The Supreme Court said that districts must be drawn so that each person has the same access to government, regardless of where she lives. But a long standing flaw in the Census that counts incarcerated people in the wrong place undermines that principle.

One dramatic example is in Jackson County, Arkansas, where 64% of Justice of the Peace District 5 is incarcerated at the Grimes-McPherson Correctional Facility. Every group of 34 people who live in that district near the prison are given as much influence over the future of their county as 100 people in any of the other districts.

The solution? Ideally, the Census Bureau would count incarcerated people as residents of their home addresses; but Lincoln County, Lee County and Forrest City Arkansas all came upon a perfectly viable interim solution: don’t include the prison populations when drawing Justice of the Peace and city council districts.

Lincoln County didn’t really have much choice in the matter, as otherwise the prison would have been two districts with no voters all by itself.

Stay tuned for our research in other Arkansas counties. Interested in other states? See our list of local governments that exclude prison populations when drawing districts, and the list of prison-based gerrymandering problems we have identified.

2 responses:

  1. mindy says:

    This has been an issue being addressed in New York state. I wouldn’t be surprised if this kind of gerrymandering is going on in all states. Unless the prisoners actually GET to vote while incarcerated or on parole they should not be counted for the purpose of re-districting or other political shenanigans.

  2. Peter Wagner says:

    Thanks Mindy. The irony, of course, is that the states that let people in prison vote require them to vote absentee back at home in their home districts. So while I happen to support letting people in prison vote, these are two distinct problem, and we have to fix both. And yes, the New York legislation is a great model because it eliminates prison-based gerrymandering at both the state and local level. Where that is not possible, counties need to take action on their own.

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