U.S. Census Bureau Should Change How it Counts Incarcerated Individuals in the 2020 Census

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The Campaign Legal Center and the Voting Rights Institute recently filed comments urging the U.S. Census Bureau to change its proposed rule on how it plans to count incarcerated prisoners in the 2020 Census.

This proposed rule allows the bureau to continue counting incarcerated individuals at the particular facility they are located in on Census Day, instead of in the community where they are from. CLC urges the Census Bureau to heed the overwhelming consensus, demonstrated by prior comments to the bureau, to change course and count incarcerated individuals in their home communities for the 2020 Census.

“Census data serves as the basis for the drawing of state and local legislative district lines,” said Gerry Hebert, executive director of the Campaign Legal Center. “If this rule is approved for the 2020 Census, it would diminish the Census as a useful demographic tool, disproportionately harm the voting power of minority communities and compromise the integrity of our democracy.”  

Our comments note that by counting prisoners as residents of their prison cells, the Census displaces a large prison population that is disproportionately male, urban and Black or Latino. This systematically overvalues the votes of those who live in districts that include prisons and diminishes the political power of everyone else. It particularly diminishes the political representation of urban minority communities, shifting that political power to rural white communities.

The Census rule places an undue burden on states seeking to count prisoners in the correct place. While some states and localities have taken steps to count prisoners in their home communities, many are required by state law to abide by the flawed Census data.

Comments on this proposed rule are due to the Census Bureau on September 1. The Campaign Legal Center encourages concerned citizens and organizations to send their own comments noting their disapproval of a rule that continues to distort our democracy.

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