Prison Gerrymandering Isn't Cool


Adam Serwer of The American Prospect isn't exactly a fan of prison gerrymandering

One of the more insidious ways rural districts that contain prisons increase their clout is by counting the involuntary presence of convicted prisoners inhabiting the correctional facilities in their districts as constituents. This would make sense only in Maine or Vermont, where inmates are allowed to vote from prison. Instead, these politicians literally have a captive constituency that is entirely prohibited from actually participating in democracy. It's a reprehensible practice, reminiscent of the "Three-Fifths Compromise" that counted non-voting slaves as three-fifths of human beings for the purpose of drawing congressional districts and distributing taxes prior to the Civil War.

Given the racial composition of the prison population, the eerie parallels between today's prisoner-based gerrymandering and yesterday's slave-counting continue. Namely, that you have a large — and largely black — disenfranchised population that is counted for the purpose of helping politicians secure power but prohibited from participating in any way in the selection of those politicians.

Maryland is now poised to become the first state to mandate that prisoners be counted as being residents of the same district as their home address, rather than where they are incarcerated. A similar bill is underway in New York, but Republicans are fighting it because it would give Democrats more power in the state Senate. The Republican response is to bring up military families and college students…


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