The American Civil Liberties Union has notched a win in a prison gerrymandering case out of Jefferson County. The organization says counting prisoners dilutes voting power in surrounding areas, and for the first time, a federal judge agrees.
Jefferson County’s internal boundaries split the population evenly between five districts—but only if inmates are included.
ACLU spokesman Baylor Johnson says counting prisoners, who don’t have voting rights, gives some citizens an outsized voice in local government.
“The inmates at Jefferson Correction Institution which is a state prison in the county made up 43 percent of the voting age population in one of the districts,” Johnson says, “and that meant that the remaining population in that district wielded much more political influence over politics than residents in the other four county districts.”
Johnson says the case sits at the intersection of mass incarceration and voting rights.
“This issue of prison gerrymandering is really one of the side effects—one of the collateral effects—of the overcrowding of our prisons,” Johnson says.
The first of its kind federal court ruling orders county officials to develop a new district map by April 4, meaning new lines could be in place for this year’s election. If the county fails, the judge will step in to revise the borders.