On the Campaign Trail: Racine County, Wisconsin

The state needs to take action to ensure that phantom constituents don't continue to distort local democracy.

by Leah Sakala, November 2, 2012

As the number of undecided voters wanes in the week before the presidential election, the candidates are making a last push to garner support in swing states. Earlier this week, vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan returned to his home state of Wisconsin to rally for the Romney ticket and to go trick or treating with his kids. But when he rallied in Racine, Wisconsin on the afternoon of Halloween, the voters had more to be scared of than just a spooky holiday. While Racine voters should carefully consider who to vote for in the national election next Tuesday, they should also be concerned about the phantom constituents in their midst that are skewing local democracy.

These phantom constituents were created when the county redistricted based on Census data that counted the people locked up in several state prisons as though they were actual residents of Racine County, rather than in their home communities. As as result, nearly one-fifth of District 14 can only be found by looking behind bars and the real residents of District 14 reap the extra political clout from the phantom constituents. Each vote cast in District 14 is 19% more powerful that a vote cast in another district. Consequently, everyone else’s vote is worth less.

At redistricting time last year, Racine County Supervisor Ken Lumpkin was certainly worried about counting incarcerated people as county constituents. As he pointed out, “It’s unfair [that prison populations] are utilized in the census count. They are not active participants in the community.” In the end, though, the prison population was left in the redistricting data despite Supervisor Lumpkin’s concerns.

Fortunately, the Supreme Court’s recent endorsement of Maryland’s law ending prison-based gerrymandering has given Wisconsin legislators the green light to move forward on a state-wide legislative solution. By passing a bill to end prison-based gerrymandering in state and local districts, Wisconsinites would be able to rest assured that phantom constituents don’t haunt elections for decades to come.

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