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One Person, How Many Votes? Measuring Prison Malapportionment

Ian Bollag-Miller
Fordham University
United States

“One person, one vote” is a fundamental principle of democracy. In practice, however, vote distribution among population groups is often less than equal. Even in established democracies, prison malapportionment – the distribution of legislative seats by counting disenfranchised prisoners in their prisons’ districts rather than their home districts – is one example of a practice that distorts voter representation. Prison malapportionment allows less populous districts that house prisons to maximize their voting power at the expense of more densely populated districts from which many prisoners come. While there has been significant scholarship on the causes and effects of prison malapportionment, there is no standard method for quantifying the level of distortion that results from the phenomenon. As such, there has not yet been any comparative study of prison malapportionment in the international context. This paper adapts a previously proposed formula for measuring malapportionment to isolate deviation from “one person, one vote” due specifically to prison malapportionment. This formula, “PMAL,” will contribute to the academic discussion by facilitating comparative analysis of prison malapportionment between districts and countries. It will also aid in predicting the success of reform efforts, and increase the accessibility of the discourse regarding this issue in public information campaigns.



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