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The Strategic Use of Prisons in Partisan Gerrymandering



The census data used to redraw legislative districts counts the country's nearly 2 million prisoners in the location of their incarceration, rather than their previous place of residence. By drawing these phantom populations into districts that lean heavily toward the majority party, legislators can free up eligible voters from those districts to be distributed among neighboring marginal ones, thereby increasing that party's likelihood of winning additional seats in the state legislature. An analysis of state senate district finds that prison populations shift systematically from districts controlled by one party to districts controlled by the other following a switch in partisan control.