Prison Gerrymandering

Locking Up Elections and Diluting Representational Equality

Mass incarceration and the continuous rise of the prison population has created nonvoter population pockets in white, rural areas. As district lines get redrawn every ten years, those living in prison districts gain a representational and electoral advantage over those living in non–prison districts. The Census Bureau should revise its “usual residence” policy and count prisoners at their prior address before they entered prison. In addition, states should take legislative action and adjust how they account for prisoners when redrawing district lines. Since advocacy has yet to result in a policy shift by either the Census Bureau or state legislatures, reformers must rely on litigation to eradicate this issue. As the 2020 census nears, it is expected that both state and federal courts will face multiple challenges to the practice of prison gerrymandering within the next decade. Relying on the one person, one vote doctrine and the representational nexus test, courts will be more inclined to protect the rights of citizens whose representational and electoral power have been diminished.

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