A recent win against gerrymandering must be the first of many steps to make elections fairer, more equitable
The Legislative Reapportionment Commission on Tuesday took a huge step to make voting in Pennsylvania fairer and more equitable by ending the practice of prison gerrymandering.
The commission’s action changes the current practice where the U.S. Census counts incarcerated individuals as residents of the prison location rather than their previous residential address. This unintentionally inflated the weight of a vote cast in districts that contain prisons at the expense of voters in areas that do not host a prison. This also dilutes the power of the vote for Black and Brown communities whose citizens are disproportionately incarcerated.
Pennsylvania has 23 state correctional institutions and one motivational boot camp facility located in 19 different counties. The combined population count for these facilities in April was 37,284 people. More than 9,000 of those people – almost 25% of the total – are from the city of Philadelphia but are not counted as residents of the city. Conversely, 31% of the total population of Forest County – more than 2,200 of the 7,300 people counted by the census there – are actually incarcerated people in state correctional institutions in the county.
While this step is incredibly important in the overall mission of ensuring free and fair elections for all eligible voters in Pennsylvania, it doesn’t go far enough in that it does not apply to federal or county prison facilities – only to those incarcerated in state correctional facilities – and it does not apply to people who are incarcerated under a life sentence.
There is still work to be done to ensure voting equity for all incarcerated persons. And there is also work to be done to end gerrymandering everywhere and for everyone across the commonwealth.
Voting is a sacred right in our country. For too long, it was denied to Black people, indigenous people and women, and it continues to be denied to many, either outright or by making the process to vote overwhelmingly difficult.
I will continue to fight for the people so that we can have a government for the people that is more representative of the people.