Washington Gov. Jay Inslee this week signed a bill requiring that people in state prisons will be counted as residents of their home addresses when new legislative districts are drawn, reports the Prison Policy Initiative. Washington is the fifth state to end the practice known as prison gerrymandering. The Washington Constitution says that, for voting purposes, people in prison should be counted as residents of their hometowns. The Census Bureau counts incarcerated people as residents of the places where they are incarcerated. When Washington used Census counts to draw past legislative districts, it enhanced the weight of votes cast in districts containing prisons at the expense of all other districts in the state.
“Washington State’s new law recognizes that ending prison gerrymandering is an important issue of fairness,” said the initiative’s Aleks Kajstura. “All districts — some far more than others — send people to prison, but only some districts contain prisons. Counting incarcerated people as residents of the prison gives extra representation to the prison district, dilutes the votes of everyone who does not live next to the state’s largest prison, and distorts the constitutional principle of one person, one vote.” Five other states have legislation to end prison gerrymandering pending: Connecticut, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island and Texas.