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Assessing the Constitutionality of Adjusting Prisoner Census Data in Congressional Redistricting: Maryland's Test Case

NCJ Number
University of Baltimore Law Forum Volume: 43 Issue: 1 Dated: Fall 2012 Pages: 35-60
Michelle Davis
Date Published
26 pages
This article examines the State of Maryland's policies regarding the use of prisoner census data in congressional redistricting efforts.
Most States, including Maryland, deny inmates the right to vote. This disenfranchisement, however, has not stopped States from including prison populations towards the total population of a U.S. Congressional or legislative district. This practice has led to the "prison gerrymandering" effect, in which districts with prisons located in them significantly reduce their number of eligible voters, leading to increased voting power for residents in those districts and increased representation at the legislative level for those same residents. This effect also has implications for implementation of the Voting Rights Act. This article briefly discusses the various court cases that have addressed the issue of using prisoner census data in congressional redistricting efforts. The article then provides a full discussion of the case, Fletcher v. Lamone, heard by the U.S. District Court of Appeals of Maryland. In this case, plaintiffs filed a suit contending that Maryland's 2012 redistricting efforts discriminated against minority voters, diluted the minority vote, and thus violated Section Two of the Voting Rights Act. The article discusses the outcomes of the case and how the Appeals Court based its decision in the case in part on the State's prisoner reallocation efforts. These reallocation efforts are aimed at correcting distortions in electoral representation resulting from the inclusion of prisoner census data when determining the populations of congressional and legislative districts. Supporters of reallocation efforts contend that the efforts reduce the distortions rather than magnify them. The Appeals Courts' use of this reasoning in its decision shows how prisoner reallocation efforts can be an effective tool for use in correcting distortions in electoral representation, especially at the national level.