Lawmakers introduce bill ahead of contentious 2024 redistricting processes in North Carolina and Ohio

Today, Representatives Deborah Ross (NC-02), Mark Pocan (WI-02), Emanuel Cleaver (MO-05), and Emilia Sykes (OH-13) 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.

Many states, including North Carolina, have faced criticism for redistricting processes that use prison gerrymandering to give disproportionate representation to rural, conservative voters at the expense of voters in urban areas and communities of color. The lawmakers are introducing this legislation ahead of what many experts predict will be a partisan redistricting process in both North Carolina and Ohio.

“North Carolina 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. “This unjust practice dilutes the voices of voters of color and makes it easier for politicians to draw non-competitive districts for themselves and their political allies. Now more than ever, we need maps that are fair and ensure every voter can participate fully in our democracy. I’m proud to lead colleagues from across the country in introducing legislation that will end prison gerrymandering at the federal level.”

“Nearly 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.”

“The practice of prison gerrymandering is un-democratic, unjust, and unbelievably unfair to communities across the country, allowing partisan politicians to manipulate the balance of power in a way that does not reflect the will of the people they represent,” said Congressman Cleaver. “Not even the longest-serving incarcerated individuals would claim their correctional facility to be home; however, unscrupulous lawmakers have historically used prison gerrymandering to gain a political advantage without giving a second thought to how it impacts our collective democracy. I’m proud to join Representative Ross in introducing the End Prison Gerrymandering Act, which takes a commonsense approach to ending this shameful practice and ensuring equal representation for every community throughout the nation.”

“All Americans have a constitutional right to equal representation in their government,” said Congresswoman Sykes. “That’s why I am proud to co-sponsor the End Prison Gerrymandering Act, which will ensure incarcerated people are fairly counted in the places they call home, in communities where they have ties, family, and friends. This legislation will allow fair and accurate representation for all communities—rural, urban, and suburban— to create a stronger, more representative democracy.”

"State and local leaders — both Republican and Democrat, rural and urban — have been clear: the data provided by the Census Bureau for redistricting is unusable because it counts people in prisons and jails in the wrong place,said Aleks Kajstura, Legal Director, Prison Policy Initiative. “With roughly half the country now living in an area that has addressed prison gerrymandering, it is time for the Bureau to catch up with their needs by finally counting incarcerated people at their homes."

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.

Bill text is available here.