(Update) Prison-based gerrymandering of districts

Posted by AzBlueMeanie:

The Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission (AIRC) meets today in Casa Grande for the first presentation of the "grid" maps and to take public testimony regarding district lines. The AIRC is meeting in Tucson on Monday in continuation of this process. See Independent Redistricting Commission.

I have previously posted a resource-rich post about Prison-based gerrymandering of districts, a subject which has not received the attention it merits from the media and from witnesses at the AIRC hearings. It is time for readers of this blog to correct this oversight.

Here is an Arizona Fact Sheet that you can download and submit with your public testimony at AIRC hearings. http://www.prisonersofthecensus.org/factsheets/az/Arizona.pdf

To learn more about the prisons in your city or town, go to the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC Prisons page) from which you can select a facility location from the list on the right menu for more information about the daily prisoner capacity and custody levels in the prison near you.

As I have previously posted about Prisonersofthecensus.org, Arizona 2010 Census Guide | Prisoners of the Census:

Fixing prison-based gerrymandering after the 2010 Census: Arizona

50 State Guide, March 2010

Prison-based gerrymandering violates the constitutional principle of "One Person, One Vote." [REYNOLDS V. SIMS (1964)] The Supreme Court requires districts to be based on equal population in order to give each resident the same access to government. But a longstanding flaw in the Census counts incarcerated people as residents of the prison location, even though they can’t vote and aren’t a part of the surrounding community.

When legislators claim people incarcerated in their districts are legitimate constituents, they award people who live close to the prison more of a say in government than everybody else.

Impact at the state level:

  • Maricopa County contains 59% of Arizona’s population, but 64% of the state’s prisoners come from the county. The political effect of this disproportionate incarceration rate is magnified by the fact that few prisoners are incarcerated in Maricopa — the county contains only 19% of the Arizona’s state prison cells.
  • Crediting many of Arizona’s incarcerated people to a few locations, far away from home, enhances the political clout of the people who live near prisons, while diluting the voting power of all other Arizonans.

Impact at the local level:

  • The town of Buckeye excluded the prison population when drawing electoral districts, otherwise the prison would have been a district all by itself with no voters.
  • Pinal County rejects the Census Bureau's prison count when drawing county board of supervisors districts. Otherwise the people who live near the prisons would have more political influence than residents of other county districts.
  • Substantial prison-based gerrymandering problems exist in Graham County. In Graham County, District 1 is 6% incarcerated (Fort Grant Unit of Arizona State Prison Complex- Safford). District 2 is 18.5% incarcerated (FCI Safford & Arizona State Prison Complex- Safford), giving some residents more influence than others.

Arizona law says a prison cell is not a residence:

“For the purpose of voting, no person shall be deemed to have gained or lost a residence by reason of being present or absent… while confined in any public jail or prison.” (Arizona Constitution, Article VII, § 3.)

However, Arizona law also says that the AIRC must use the federal census data without using "census bureau population counts derived from any other means, including the use of statistical sampling, to add or subtract population by inference."

A.R.S. Sec. 16-1103. Legislative and congressional redistricting; census enumeration

For purposes of adopting legislative and congressional district boundaries, the legislature or any entity that is charged with recommending or adopting legislative or congressional district boundaries shall make its recommendations or determinations using population data from the United States bureau of the census identical to those from the actual enumeration conducted by the bureau for the apportionment of the representatives of the United States house of representatives in the United States decennial census and shall not use census bureau population counts derived from any other means, including the use of statistical sampling, to add or subtract population by inference.

This is a serious flaw in federal and state law that results in "phantom" minority-majority districts under the Voting Rights Act of 1965, intended to protect the voting rights of traditionally disenfranchised minority voter communities of interest. And as noted above, it also violates the "one man, one vote" rule by enhancing the vote of a small number of individuals who live near a prison while diluting the vote of all other voters.

The AIRC needs to be made aware of this problem so that it can adopt a formula to correct for prison populations that will accurately create equal population districts and comply with the "one man, one vote" rule without enhancing or diluting votes. It is up to you to testify to the AIRC to correct this oversight.

Here is a map of how this prison-based gerrymandering played out with the last AIRC redistricting in 2001, from the Prison Policy Initiative. Prisoners and jail inmates stymie Arizona's attempt to draw equally sized districts | Prison Policy Initiative


Data Source: U.S. Census 2000, Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission March 1, 2004 districts. (Map: Rose Heyer, 2004)