Washington, D.C. – Today, Representatives Deborah Ross (NC-02) and Mark Pocan (WI-02) introduced the End Prison Gerrymandering Act. This legislation will help ensure equal representation for all by requiring the Census Bureau to count incarcerated people at their last place of residence rather than the prison in which they are held at the time of the Census.
“Our state has a long history of manipulating voters’ places of residence to produce maps that benefit the party in power, including through prison gerrymandering,” said Congresswoman Ross. “In many cases, this deeply unjust practice has the net effect of diluting the voices of people of color. To ensure equal representation, especially at the state and local level, we must change the way prisoners are counted. This simple, commonsense step will yield better maps and fairer electoral outcomes, both in North Carolina and across the country.”
“Almost no one would consider the facility in which they’re incarcerated home,” said Congressman Pocan. “The current Prison Gerrymandering practice is wrong, giving undue power to certain regions of the country and to elected officials who do not value their concerns. We must end this practice and count people from where they came and most likely will return to once their sentence is finished. I thank Congresswoman Ross for her leadership on this issue.”
This legislation is endorsed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Prison Policy Initiative.
“The ACLU is proud to support this legislation which helps address one of the serious harms of voter disenfranchisement," said Christopher Anders, ACLU federal policy director. “Stripping the right to vote–a basic human right–is a relic of the Jim Crow era’s suffocating racism. Prison gerrymandering exacerbates this unequal representation and allows electoral maps to be drawn that underrepresent communities of color and historically marginalized populations. This bill will help ensure that incarcerated people are seen as residents of the places where they lived, often where they grew up and have family and friends, and almost always return to upon release–instead of places where they have no voice in who represents them–and is a step to help make sure our maps reflect communities’ constitutionally enshrined right to be fairly represented.”
“Nearly half of the people in the US live in a state that has formally rejected prison gerrymandering; it is time for the Census Bureau to count people at home,” said Aleks Kajstura, Legal Director, Prison Policy Initiative. “This bill would ensure that the Census Bureau counts incarcerated people at home, instead of placing the burden on states to correct the data to make it fit for use in redistricting.”
Every ten years when the Census is conducted, incarcerated people are counted as residents of the towns where they are imprisoned rather than the places they call home. This practice skews the population count and interferes with equal representation in virtually every state—using mass incarceration to reduce the population count in urban areas, where most prisoners are from, and inflating the populations of rural areas, where most prisons are located. And, as many incarcerated people are barred from voting, this practice creates a gross inequity in representation.
The original cosponsors of this legislation include Representatives Emanuel Cleaver (MO-05), Danny Davis (IL-07), Madeleine Dean (PA-04), Jesús “Chuy” García (IL-04), Raúl Grijalva (AZ-03), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Sara Jacobs (CA-53), Hank Johnson (GA-04), Mondaire Jones (NY-17), Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-40), Rashida Tlaib (MI-13), Ritchie Torres (NY-15), and Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12).
Rep. Ross is a vocal supporter of voting rights and serves as a member of the House Judiciary Committee and Vice Chair of the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties.