Gerrymandering

NAACP Sues Connecticut to Stop 'Prison Gerrymandering'

Incarcerated prisoners are counted where they're jailed for representation purposes, even though they usually cannot vote.

|

Prison
Angelo Gilardelli / Dreamstime.com

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is suing Connecticut to stop the practice of counting prisoners as though they're residents of the districts where they're incarcerated, a practice that inflates the political power of some parts of the state at the expense of others.

Felons serving prison time generally cannot legally vote, but they still count in the census and for determining district boundaries. In Connecticut, they were counted in the state's 2011 redistricting plan as residents of the prison facility instead of where they came from.

The NAACP lawsuit calls this "prison gerrymandering." The end result is that prisoners, disproportionally black and Latino, end up being counted as residents in the rural areas where the jails are concentrated. This increases the population used to determine district boundaries of the prisoner-heavy areas without actually increasing the number of voters, and takes numbers away from the cities, like Hartford and New Haven, where these prisoners come from.

The suit notes that Connecticut's laws don't require that prisoners be counted this way; the state's Reapportionment Commission made the choice. The lawsuit also notes that on the rare occasions when people in Connecticut are incarcerated yet also eligible to vote, they are required to cast ballots for races in their home districts, not the districts where they're incarcerated.

The end result is a 10- to 15-percent variance in district populations. A state House district in Connecticut has an average of around 23,670 residents. In the districts with the prisons, about 1,000 to 2,000 people cannot vote due to incarceration.

The NAACP argues that this an unbalanced representation system violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. The group is asking the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut to stop the state from using the 2001 plan.

It's worth noting that the federal census does the same thing. In February the Census Bureau announced it would use a person's "usual residence" for the 2020 count. That means where a person lives and sleeps much of the time, not his or her legal residence. So people who are incarcerated will be classified as being residents of the congressional districts where they are jailed.

Most states do the same thing too. Indeed, only four states—Maryland, Delaware, New York, and California—count prison inmates as residents of their home communities for redistricting purposes.

Read the lawsuit here.

Advertisement

NEXT: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Says Unemployment Is Low 'Because Everyone Has Two Jobs,' Which Is Not How Unemployment Rates Work

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Felons serving prison time generally cannot legally vote

    Absolutely outrageous. There’s no valid reason to strip them of this most sacred civil right.

    #LibertariansForFelonVoting

    1. Agreed?

      1. I agree as well. Particularly after they are out of prison. They’ve served their time.

    2. Well, looks like that one backfired simce this is a fairly mainstream libertarian opinion.

      1. Is it? I’ve seen broad support for *restoring* voting rights to ex-convicts (that is, folks that have done their time and been released), but I don’t remember discussions about the currently incarcerated.

    3. Agreed. Being in prison should not deprive you of the right to vote.

      But then what district do they vote in? I say whatever district they want, because that’s how it worked when I was in the navy — home town, something that I chose, not the gdm ship floating around the gdm ocean or tied up to a gdm dock or anchored off bumfuck.

      1. That should be changed. If you are not a resident of a municipality, county, or state, you should not be allowed to vote in their elections. Being in the Navy should not be an exception to that.

        1. Then where should military members vote?

          How about ground pounders on one year tours out of the country?

          How about all the WW II soldiers out of the country for 3-4 years?

          1. See above.

  2. Don’t college students have similar effects?

    1. Sort of? Especially if a student lives in the dorms (as opposed to off-campus) it gets weird since they only “live” there for four months at a time, so in many cases they get “counted” as back with their “permanent” residence.

      That said, students often have recourse if the want to be politically involved, changing their registration, moving off-campus to get a permanent address, just flat-out telling their parents “don’t count me in the census there” (and vice versa).

      So it’s similar in some regards, but students have a lot more agency and recourse if they don’t like how they’re being counted so it’s not as outrageous.

    2. College students are ‘resident’ at their college for voting, taxation, and representation purposes.

      Military bases, otoh, screw things up. We’re usually resident elsewhere for tax and votong purposes but get counted as resident at the base (instead of our home) for representation.

    3. College students at schools in rural or suburban areas could have a large effect on local elections if they wanted to, but, fortunately, very few of them vote.

  3. Move the jails downtown.

    1. Or to the other gated communities.

    2. Or just don’t move convicts. If you’re from downtown, you go to prison downtown. If you live out in the township, you serve your sentence in the township. Keep them at home.

  4. HAHAHAHA how about we start with, say, illegal aliens first. I mean, at least the prisoners are actually Americans in the first place.

    More unusual than that is that you’d think the NAACP would be more interested in, you know, letting all those black men in Prison vote. That would actually make sense, which of course is why the NAACP didn’t say that.

  5. Stupid question, but… if you’re in prison, isn’t that your legal address? That is your “home”. You aren’t “from” somehwere else at that point.

    Stupider question: wouldn’t it more productive for the NAACP to ask its charges to kindly stop committing so many felonies…?

    1. Yeah, the biggest question for me upon reading that is where DO they want them to be counted as residents?

      1. I went and read a portion of the lawsuit. They wish for it to be their residence before incarceration.

        1. That’s silly. No choice? And who says someone in for 20 years will even have a former home to go to?

          No, let them choose a hometown just as I did in the navy.

          1. No. Count them and let them vote where they actually live. If you don’t have an address because you live on a submarine, too bad. You can vote when you have a home again.

            1. Ever been out of town for vacation or on business? Should we discount your vote by all the days you were out of town? What if you sleep in one town and work in another and commute an hour each way? Should your residence be determined by where you spend the most time, and should traffic jams be able to upset the balance and change your voting district?

              Start thinking it through. Your policy sucks.

              1. Your residence is determined by where your residence is. None of that other stuff is relevant. Stop over-thinking this.

                1. I want to live in an RV and work from “home” from every national park in the continental US. Should I get to realize this dream, where is my “residence”?

                  1. If, in this fantasy, you do not own or rent a permanent residence anywhere, you would not have a “home” for voting purposes, unless you happened to stay in one place long enough to satisfy that state’s residency requirement.

            2. Or maybe you say it should be where you pay property taxes. OK, now add in a vacation home. Get two votes? What if you and the spouse own two houses? One vote each? What about states which tax cars like property? Could an expensive car pay higher property taxes than a vacation cabin and where does that car spend most of its time?

              Get real.

              1. If you own multiple homes and there is no significant difference in how much time you spend in each, then you have to pick one to call your permanent place of residence. But you do have to pick one, for voting, taxes, and other purposes.

                Obviously, your car is irrelevant. Get real.

                1. You have dodged every question. “Pick one” without criteria for eligibility is just hand waving. How is the car irrelevant is it costs more than a house? What if it IS your house, as in EscherEnigma’s RV? What if you own two RVs in different states?

                  Your scheme is too rigid to have a chance of actually being useful. Your lack of answers shows you know it too.

                  1. I have answered every question. I did not say “pick one” without criteria for eligibility. The criteria are owning or renting a residence, and if you spend essentially equal amounts of time at multiple homes, then, yes, you have to pick one. People who have multiple residences have to do this all the time for many purposes, as I said. I’m not suggesting anything out of the ordinary.

                    Your car is irrelevant because it’s not a home. I suppose if your car was in a permanent parking place that you owned or rented and you slept there every night, that parking spot would count as your residence. The same would apply to RVs. If you had two RVs parked in different states and spent about the same amount of time in either, then, yes, you would have to choose one as your permanent address.

                    This is very simple. As I said above, you’re over-thinking.

                    1. You have answered every question in the vaguest terms possible. Politicians say more.

                      Yes, it is a simple problem, and your solution is unworkable because it introduces complexity and vagueness. You aren’t thinking at all.

                    2. And your solution is that if you don’t have a permanent address you should just be able to throw a dart at the map and cast a vote for city council in Fort Wayne, Indiana, just for shits and giggles. Absurd. My solution couldn’t be more clear and simple: you vote where you live. If you don’t live anywhere, you don’t get to vote in local and state elections. There’s no vagueness or complexity at all to that, unless you engage in irrelevant fantastical thinking about car taxes and traffic jams.

    2. Well, we could start with removing the consenual crimes that get a lot of these people locked up.

      Then, after we’ve taken that first step, we could ask them to reciprocate by committing fewer crimes.

    3. if you’re in prison, isn’t that your legal address?

      Yes. If they are not maintaining a residence where they formerly lived, then it makes no sense to continue to count them as residents there. We don’t allow people who have relocated for other reasons who do not maintain an address in their former community to continue to vote in their former place of residence. I don’t see why convicts should be an exception. Count them where they actually live, and let them vote where they actually live.

      1. Scarecrow Repair does say that in the military you just choose a hometown. Which I think seems reasonable.

        1. That does not seem reasonable at all to me.

          1. “If you’re in the military you don’t get to vote” seems unlikely to ever be a popular position, but you tilt at whatever windmill strikes your fancy.

            1. My position is that if you do not have an address you don’t get to vote in state and local elections. The reason why you don’t have an address should be irrelevant. I have not problem with people with no address voting for President.

            2. BTW?if you’re opposed to discussing ideas that will never go anywhere, what are you doing on a Libertarian site?

  6. Nobody who can’t vote – for whatevet reason – shoild be counted for representation purposes.

    1. I’m not entirely opposed to that notion (in fact, I’d go further and make it based on actual voters, not just eligible voters), but you should acknowledge that it’s neither the tradition or intention of the Constitution.

      1. I think this is a strange article, which I like because of it.

        This doesn’t strike me as a particularly partisan issue in any way. Pure book keeping questions that are both interesting and valid.

        1. Eh, it *is* partisan because it ends up folding back into the “how much does your vote count” bit. If you live in an area that has a whole bunch of folks ineligible to vote then you’re individual vote “counts more” then the vote of someone in a district with fewer ineligible voters.

          Generally it’s a intra-state problem (rural vs urban counties), but the same points can be made intra-state when you talk about immigrants (legal or otherwise), ex-cons and federal prisons.

          1. Should read “same points can be made inter-state”.

  7. I hear they’ve come up with a compromise– the prisoners will be counted for purposes of representation, but only as 3/5 of a person.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.