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View from around the state: SCOTUS must end ‘packing and cracking’

— From The Journal Times of Racine

In what could lead to a landmark ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court last week heard arguments in a Wisconsin case that challenges the despicable practice of political parties drawing up legislative and congressional districts to lock in their power and disenfranchise voters.

It’s called “packing and cracking,” a two-edged sword that maximizes the political clout of a political party in power — in Wisconsin’s case, Republicans — to pack voters who have historically voted Democratic into a district in order to keep those voters from influencing the results in a neighboring area that might be more competitive and cracking by drawing the lines of a district to spread voters who favor Democrats over a wide area to dilute their vote.

Racine had a front row seat in this process when state Republicans drew up the district maps after the 2010 Census to pack the cities of Racine and Kenosha into one district. The effect was to lessen the competitiveness of area districts and lessen the power of voters to switch back and forth from Republicans to Democrats and vice versa from election to election.

In the far western part of the state, La Crosse was gerrymandered into a far-reaching district that ran up through the central part of the state in an effort to closet Democratic voters in a single district — again to lessen voters’ chances of affecting other neighboring districts.

In a politically divided Wisconsin, it played out like this: In 2012, when state voters supported Democrat President Barack Obama and Democratic candidates got nearly 52 percent of the vote in races for the state Assembly, they won only 39 of the 99 contested Assembly seats and Republicans won 60.

Four years later, when President Donald Trump took the state by a narrow margin, Republicans took a 64-35 Assembly majority.

But the impact goes far beyond Wisconsin — it impacts every state in the nation as politicians from both parties have gotten more aggressive about gerrymandering districts.

In other states where Democrats have wielded the redrawing pens, the impact has been just as stark, with Democrats solidifying their hold on legislative and congressional seats by gerrymandering voters into districts that give politicians the most political power.

In essence, the politicians — of both parties — are picking their voters to grasp political advantage. That is backward. It is voters who should be picking their political representatives and they have a right under the Constitution to do so without being “packed” into a district and having their vote diminished.

For years, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that such gerrymandering to diminish the power of voters based on race is illegal under the Constitution. In the Wisconsin case, it has a chance to extend that concept and rule that redistricting solely for the purpose of partisan political gain is also against the country’s best interest and a violation of our citizens’ constitutional rights.

Unless the high court — which is closely split on this issue — puts up a roadblock and affirms the value of a citizen’s vote, the political parties will only become more brazen in their gerrymandered maps that disenfranchise voters everywhere.

Voters deserve a choice. Elections should be competitive and not decided in secret by politicians with self-serving interests.

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