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June 27, 2009

"Census Prisoner Count Dilutes Urban Political Clout"

The title of this post is the headline of this article from The Legal Intelligencer.  Here is how the article starts:

The voting power of Philadelphians is diluted on the state level because state and federal prisoners are counted by the U.S. Census Bureau where they are incarcerated, instead of the prisoners' home communities in which they lived before they were incarcerated, an advocacy group has concluded.

Eight state House of Representatives districts would not meet federal "one-person, one-vote" standards if nonvoting state prisoners did not count as district residents for purposes of drawing up legislative districts, according to an analysis conducted by Prison Policy Initiative, an advocacy group based in Northampton, Mass.

PPI is pushing for the U.S. Census to change where it counts prisoners. The group has analyzed the effect of counting prisoners on state legislative districting from New York to Nevada. The PPI planned to release its first Pennsylvania-based report, "Importing Constituents: Prisoners and Political Clout in Pennsylvania," today.

Because of the nation's burgeoning prison population, counting prisoners where they are incarcerated is having a greater impact on the equitable division of legislative districts than ever before, the report said. Because prisoners can't vote, residents who have a right to vote in districts that have a state or federal prison within their borders benefit from greater legislative clout than voting residents in districts without a state prison, the report argued.

The referenced report from the Prison Policy Initiative can be accessed at this link.

June 27, 2009 at 09:43 AM | Permalink


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That's a interesting argument that I have never heard of before. My basic question is why are they being counted at all for districting purposes. That makes no sense. If they can't vote, they shouldn't be counted.

Posted by: Daniel | Jun 27, 2009 7:47:31 PM

What about illegals?

Posted by: federalist | Jun 27, 2009 10:17:25 PM

they should be allowed to vote as absentee voters

Posted by: matt | Jun 27, 2009 11:20:59 PM

Inmates are counted for the purpose of federal funds in the relevant area, and so that representatives in that district can be elected/reelected. Whereever those inmates are incarcerated naturally includes a federal prison and a federal prison "camp." There are jobs for the people in that community...and then there are votes. The inmates cannot vote, and will never be allowed the vote, because those connected with the building of the federal prisons, and the providing of correctional institute jobs, would be immediately voted out of office. Consider, for just one example, Ray LaHood. In his Peoria, Illinois district was the federal prison system in Pekin, Illinois--a depressed, rural community. He was representative of that Republican community for years, before going on to serve in President Obama's administration. LaHood's son is a U.S. prosecutor, and his daughter works for the federal government.

Posted by: FluffyRoss | Jun 28, 2009 7:09:26 AM

"If they can't vote, they shouldn't be counted."

Wrong. Districts are apportioned by population, not registered (or even eligible) voters, just like the Constitution does with US House districts. Elected officials represent EVERYBODY - even those like children, prisoners, immigrants, etc., who cannot vote.

federalist: what about Martians? Focus, man. What's the point of constantly spewing culture-war jargon with no relevance at all to what's written?

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Jun 28, 2009 8:59:06 AM

grits, the point, of course, is that many urban areas get a bump from the population of illegals

Posted by: federalist | Jun 28, 2009 10:15:07 AM

Federalist, I think I get your point (although it would be nice if you actually came out and stated it), but you're comparing apples and oranges. Prisoners always get counted, every single one -- they're the easiest population for the census to count. Illegal immigrants are routinely undercounted, for reasons you can probably imagine.

Posted by: CN | Jun 28, 2009 4:24:03 PM

The Iowa Director of Corrections made a few comments about inmate voting at a recent meeting of the Board of Corrections. My recollection was there were more eligible voters than he expected and the registration process and obtaining absentee ballots turned out to be fairly complex and time consuming. The Iowa voter registration process has been simplified so I imagine the complexities he mentioned involved inmates that needed to be registered to vote in other states.

On a somewhat related topic Iowa law makes it possible for a homeless person to register and vote. Some of the homeless move from camp to camp or leave the state for part of the year (during the winter) so counting them for census purposes would be a formidable task.

Posted by: John Neff | Jun 28, 2009 6:43:52 PM

federalist, are you trying to say that's improper for some reason, or are you just hoping if you use the word "illegals" enough times it will convey a negative sentiment without you ever having to back up insinuation with argument?

Voting districts are apportioned by population, not according to the number of eligible voters. If immigrants of any legal status live in a given district, there's no legitimate argument for excluding them from the census. Ignoring reality or refusing to document it doesn't make it go away, despite your earnest wishes.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Jun 28, 2009 6:48:38 PM

Great. Like we needed another kind of locally sort-of-rational but societally counter-productive incentive for the overproduction of prisons and jails (and inmates)...

Posted by: Observer | Jun 28, 2009 9:39:17 PM

grits, the bottom line is that "rule of law" means something--if the government ignores the illegal alien presence in our nation or drags its feet on enforcement, that impacts our democracy--that may be cool with you

Posted by: federalist | Jun 29, 2009 11:52:56 AM

Federalist, you are a hilarious piece of work. Prof. Berman writes a post on how rural prisons dilute the urban census count. Your comment on this subject is... that the government has to deal with illegal immigration seriously or our democracy is weakened. (Not to mention you throw in a cheap dig at Grits.) Say wha?

Folks might take you more seriously if you made an attempt to stay on topic.

Posted by: CN | Jun 29, 2009 4:12:46 PM

whatever, CN

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