On September 12 2014, the Massachusetts legislature sent the United States Census Bureau a resolution adopted by both chambers, calling on the Census Bureau to reform its outdated practice of enumerating incarcerated persons as “residents” of the prisons in which they are temporarily incarcerated. This practice leads state and local governments to violate the constitutional principle of one person, one vote by granting additional undue political clout to voters who live near prisons and diluting the votes cast by everyone else. As the resolution explains:
"Census data results in distortions of the one-person, one-vote principle in drawing electoral districts in Massachusetts, diluting the representation of the majority of districts that do not contain prisons."
Massachusetts’ resolution urges the Census Bureau to provide states with redistricting data that counts incarcerated persons at their residential address.
In response to these developments, Demos and the Prison Policy Initiative, non-partisan public policy organizations concerned about fair electoral representation, released the following statement:
“A prison is not a home,” said Brenda Wright, Vice President for Legal Strategies at Demos. “Prison-based gerrymandering distorts democracy and fair representation in Massachusetts, and should not be tolerated in our state. Demos applauds the leadership of Senators Rosenberg, Chang-Diaz, and Dorcena-Forry and Representatives Moran, Carvalho, and Rushing in achieving passage of the resolution urging the Census Bureau to count incarcerated persons in their home communities, where they are considered to reside for virtually all legal purposes.”
Demos and the Prison Policy Initiative have long partnered in the goal of ending prison-based gerrymandering. “The national trend in state and local governments of rejecting prison gerrymandering sends a clear message to the Census Bureau that it’s time to update the residence rules,” said Peter Wagner, Executive Director of the Prison Policy Initiative. “I’m proud of the Massachusetts Legislature’s steps to urge the Census Bureau to end prison gerrymandering nationwide 2020.”
During the public hearings on redistricting in Massachusetts following the 2010 Census, Demos and PPI were among many groups and individuals urging the Massachusetts legislature to add its voice to those of other stakeholders calling for change in how the Census Bureau enumerates incarcerated persons.
The Special Joint Committee on Legislative Redistricting in Massachusetts took note of these concerns in its final report, devoting about a quarter of the redistricting report to the vote dilution caused by the Census Bureau's decision to tabulate incarcerated people as residents of the prison, and suggesting this resolution as their first key recommendation.
Demos and PPI strongly applaud the Massachusetts legislature for its leadership in adopting this recommendation and calling for permanent, nation-wide reform of how incarcerated persons are tabulated in the Census. The Massachusetts Legislature’s resolution sends a strong message that Massachusetts residents, and all U.S. voters, deserve to have a fair say in elections. It’s time for the Census Bureau to do its part.
The full text of the resolution is:
WHEREAS, obtaining an accurate count of the population is so vital to representative democracy that the framers of the United States Constitution addressed the issue of the census and apportionment in the opening paragraphs of the Constitution; and
WHEREAS, the Massachusetts Constitution requires that federal census data be the basis for state redistricting; and
WHEREAS, the Census Bureau currently has a policy of counting incarcerated people at the address of the correctional institution, even though for other legal purposes their home address remains their legal residence; and
WHEREAS, this Census data results in distortions of the one-person, one-vote principle in drawing electoral districts in Massachusetts, diluting the representation of the majority of districts that do not contain prisons;
WHEREAS, the simplest solution to the conflict between federal constitutional requirements of “one person, one vote” and Massachusetts constitutional requirements of using the federal census is for the Census Bureau to publish redistricting data based on the location of an incarcerated person’s residence, not prison location; and
WHEREAS, the Census Bureau has already recognized the demand from states and counties for data that better reflects their actual populations, and has agreed to release data on prison populations to states in time for redistricting, enabling some states to individually adjust the population data used for redistricting; and
WHEREAS, Public Law 94-171 requires the Census Bureau to work with states to provide geographically relevant data and the Census Bureau has been responsive to state’s data needs for the past 3 decades; now therefore be it
RESOLVED, that the Massachusetts General Court hereby urges the Census Bureau, in the next Census and thereafter, to provide states with redistricting data that counts incarcerated persons at their residential address, rather than the address of the correctional institution where they are temporarily located; and be it further
RESOLVED, that a copy of these resolutions be transmitted forthwith by the Clerk of the Senate to the Director of Census Bureau.