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Prisoners of the Census: Dale Ho Interview

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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Peter Wagner:

Welcome to issues in prison-based gerrymandering, a podcast about keeping the Census Bureau’s prison count from harming our democracy. The Census Bureau counts people in prison as if they were actual residents of their prison cells, even though most state laws say that people in prison are residents of their homes. When prison counts are used to pad legislative districts, the weight of a vote starts to differ. If you live next to a large prison, your vote is worth more than one cast in a district without prisons. Prison-based gerrymandering distorts state legislative districts and has been known to create county legislative districts that contain more prisoners than voters. On each episode, we’ll talk with different voting rights experts about ways in which state and local governments can change the census and avoid prison-based gerrymandering.

Thank you for joining us, Dale. I was hoping you could introduce yourself and tell us about what you do at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and why the LDF is interested in addressing prison-based gerrymandering.

Dale Ho:

Thanks a lot, Peter. My name’s Dale Ho, and I’m assistant counsel in the political participation group at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. My work focuses on voting rights and election law, and we’re interested in the prison-based gerrymandering issue for a number of reasons.

First, and I think the most basic, reason is prison-based gerrymandering violates the fundamental principle of one person, one vote, the basic principle of political equality that everyone’s vote is supposed to be counted equally. But as we all know, because of prison-based gerrymandering, your vote and my vote doesn’t count as much as the vote of someone who lives in an election district that hosts a prison because the prison population is used to artificially inflate the population count and thus the political influence of those districts. So it’s an issue that really affects everyone.

Read or listen to the full interview.