Letter: Including prison counts skews districts

Mar. 23, 2013 @ 01:32 PM

Now that the Granville County Board of Commissioners and school board are redrawing the local election districts, they have a chance to fix a major flaw with the current districts. The people who live in District 3 have twice the political clout of any other resident just because they live near the federal prison. This discrepancy undermines the constitutional guarantee of “one person, one vote.”

The problem is that the Census Bureau tabulates incarcerated people at the locations of prisons, not in their home communities, even though incarcerated people can’t vote and remain legal residents of their home addresses. When political districts are based on this Census Bureau data, people who live near prisons get an unfair political boost and everyone else’s votes are diluted.

There’s a simple solution used by more than 200 local governments around the country, including the North Carolina counties of Caswell and Columbus: exclude the prison populations from the data used for redistricting purposes. The Census Bureau has published a data set specifically for this purpose, recognizing local governments’ need to keep prison population counts from distorting local democracy.

North Carolina law says that the people temporarily confined in your county are not county residents (N.C. Gen. Stat. § 163-57). County officials should take this opportunity to make sure that the new districts contain equal numbers of actual Granville residents.

Leah Sakala

Easthampton, Mass.

The letter-writer is a policy analyst for Prison Policy Initiative.